Review of Breath by Tim Winton – Dull but Readable

A/N: Sorry I didn’t get this up yesterday, as I said I would, but I forgot. I do tend to forget things. This is a school assignment wherein we had to read a book, in this case Breath by Tim Winton and write a review.

To say that I found Tim Winton’s Breath boring wouldn’t be quite true. My description of it is dull but easy to read. There wasn’t anything in particular that caught my attention, but for the most part there also wasn’t anything that made me want to stop reading.

For the most part.

I haven’t, admittedly, read any of Tim Winton’s other books, so I am not sure if it is a trend he has or a style employed in this book in particular but the tone and writing seem to shift, distinctly, between extremes. There is the extreme of solely action and the extreme of no action. Any time there was nothing happening, which was not too common but happened enough times to be a trend, I felt compelled to put the book down and do something else for a while.

The first time this was really noticeable is fairly early in the book when the narrator takes a break from narrating the story of his young life to pontificate on the fact that people breathe. I realise that a theme in this book is breath, hence the title, but whenever this theme is brought up it is done so in a very heavy handed way. There is much ado made of Pikelet and Loonie holding their breath for a long time. There is a big deal made of Pikelet’s father’s sleep apnoea. There is a big deal made of Eva enjoying being suffocated. I didn’t mind this so much, but from page 49 to page 52 is an unbroken ramble on breathing.

This sort of tonal shift happens mostly under one circumstance, wherein the narrator decides to take a break from storytelling to have a bit of a ramble. The only time this is not the case is close to the end of the book when Pikelet is obsessing over Eva, which I have been informed is the normal form of a serious crush and came off naturally even if it seemed odd to me.

Though the story of Breath is clearly a coming of age story, for the most part it acts as a reverse of the normal order, in that things only seem to get more difficult for Pikelet. As he matures he works things out, sure, and understands more about himself and others, Sando in particular, but this doesn’t make his life easier. As he comes upon more maturity and understanding, things only get more difficult and complex. Even after puberty his life does not come together for a good many years, not until reaches around fifty years of age and even then it would be better to say that he has come to terms with his life than that he has worked it out.

The reason that I found the book readable while mostly being unengaging seems to me to be a matter of subject. I didn’t know anything about surfing, surfing culture, small town living, or the strong desire to half-drown oneself for fun before I read Breath. While I didn’t engage with the story or characters for the most part, I was interested in the actions they were undertaking.

I found, though, generally, that I was engaged by the story or characters most when there was least surfing. I enjoyed reading about Pikelet and Loonie meeting and become friends and being stupid together. I enjoyed reading about Pikelet’s school camp and the girl who informed him she was his girlfriend.

While the surfing was interesting in a learning experience sort of way, it seemed often to be a point at which a break was taken from the narrative. I am aware that this isn’t actually the case, this is a novel about surfing, but that was how it seemed to me, mostly. The main exception to this was when Pikelet surfed Old Smokey by himself or, for that matter, most of the times any of the main characters surfed Old Smokey or Nautilus.

It is, for this reason, that I enjoyed the book more the further I read. As Pikelet drifted further from Loonie and Sando and surfed less, I could engage with the character far more.

I wondered, at first, if it wasn’t a creepy that some random old man (from the perspective of the children) had approached these two boys and offered to keep their surfboards at his house. But Sando doesn’t really come across as creepy in that area, he comes across exactly how Pikelet thinks of him: awesome then mildly annoying then aggravating then awkward to be around.

While it is made clear that Sando is, indeed, taking advantage of the boys, it is not in the way that would be expected these days. Though the book was written in 2008, it harkens back to a time before a lot of the stranger panic was widespread. Pikelet’s parents, who admittedly don’t know the full nature of the relationship, don’t really appear to mind Sando much.

Oddly, Tim Winton chooses not to use quotations to mark dialogue in Breath and while this was jarring at first, it barely made a difference. Once I was used to this way of doing things the dialogue actually blended quite well into the form of the story, which is a recounting. This way of writing dialogue gives the impression of recounting dialogue, which is what is happening, without having to phrase it all passively. I would say, though, that if this was the writer’s intention in writing dialogue this way, that it may have been made more clear if he had used quotes while writing the present.

While the book had a fair number of good moments, I did not, overall, enjoy reading it. It isn’t my deal at all, but for something that I wouldn’t normally read, it is actually quite good. The characters, if unappealing to me, are actually quite well developed, the setting is clearly well researched and the story is interesting in patches. I expect that someone with either more interest or more experience in surfing would enjoy this book more than me.

Wow, another gap

So I was intending to post something sooner, once my holidays started (they have now ended) but clearly I didn’t get around to it. The main reason for this is that I have been quite sick for a while, the other is that I have barely gotten anything done in at least a month. So yeah, apologies for not holding up my end of the bargain, if there was a bargain or whatever.

I will be posting something tomorrow, and hopefully after that I will get back into the swing of things, but I’m not totally sure as the computer I generally use is in for repairs (it is also the computer with my movies and stuff on it) but I should have that back soon. Regardless of my computer, I will have something to post for tomorrow.

Busyness

My intent was to post a review today, but I haven’t got any written so seems like that won’t happen. I don’t think I’ll manage it next week either as next week is when all my school work is due so I’m busy. I don’t know if anyone minds, but I figured I would inform you anyway.

Red – Unsurprisingly good action

Red is a movie I’ve quite liked since the moment I found out it existed. I don’t actually remember if I saw it in the cinema, but I probably did, and I liked it right from that moment. One of the things I like about the movie is that effort was obviously put into it. It could easily have skated by on the sheer star power of numerous famous people (and Karl Urban) being involved.

The story is of Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) who is a retired CIA agent living peacefully in the suburbs somewhere, alone. He fairly seems like he had nothing to do, and that is the point. When something finally happens to him, he almost seems happy about it. He ends up pursued by CIA agent William Cooper (played by Karl Urban). The story, honestly. isn’t so interesting, though it is very well put together. This is an a ction movie that is made mostly so that a group of aging famous people can get together and make jokes about being aging famous people. For this fact, it is really quite good.

I have a couple of nitpicks for the movie, but really there is nothing majorly wrong with it, the idea is solid, acting of course good (it stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren), and the characters and dynamic believable and well fleshed out. The main nitpick I have is that it seems like the ‘romance’ is more like Stockholm syndrome, but I also didn’t really care. The main reason I saw it was for that scene in the trailer where Bruce Willis casually steps out of a spinning police car.

It is a good movie, funny, well paced, good action, all that stuff. It isn’t mindblowing or unique, not really, but it is well worth watching.

Doctor Who: Season 8 Episode 2: Into the Dalek

I wasn’t really intending to do reviews of each episode, but I may end up doing so. The odd thing I’m finding so far about this series (and yes it is a small sample so far) is that the stories of each episode aren’t really very impressive, but everything else is. What I mean by that is that basically good acting can do a lot to make up for a shit script. Sure whatever is going on is stupid, but everyone is selling it really well. I didn’t like this episode as much as the previous one, but it could have been worse. The odd thing that I’m also finding so far is that I enjoyed the episodes more the second time I watched them.

As is fairly pointed out by the episode title, the story is of going inside a Dalek. The Doctor, Clara, and three supporting characters are shrunk and stuck inside a dalek that claims to want to kill other daleks. Then they fix it and it gets over it. The thing about the plot in this episode is that it is really very simple, which I think is a good way to do it if you can’t write plot well. All the characters seems almost like real people, the dynamic is pretty good and really it mostly works, except that it doesn’t quite.

I have to say that the most annoying thing in the episode is that apparently now the sonic screwdriver can be used as a welding torch. I’ve fairly watched the sonic screwdriver transform was useful tool (in 2005) to magic wand over the last few seasons. The interesting thing about this observation is that it has already been made, within the tv show itself (in the 50th anniversary episode). The point, I figured, of this observation would be that the use might change, but it is not so.

Really, there isn’t much to say on the episode (I’m not going to review each episode, just the ones I feel like), if you’re a rabid fan then you’ve seen it, if you’re a mild fan then you might as well watch it, and if you aren’t a fan, then you should start with the first of the current iteration of the show (which started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston). Not shit, but not that great either. Just try not to expect too much and you’ll probably like it.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Unimpressive and largely inoffensive

I didn’t see the Amazing Spider-Man, 1 or 2, in the cinema. I didn’t actually know that the first one existed before a reviewer I follow mentioned it. I don’t have much investment in the previous set of movies, or in this one for that matter. I kind of liked the first Amazing Spider-Man, kind of being operative. One of the things that I like about this reboot of the franchise is Spider-Man’s attitude, the way that he doesn’t really take much seriously. At one point in the second one he is swinging through the city and swings past some people on the street with a “hello pedestrians” which amused me.

Really, the movie isn’t much good. Andrew Garfield (who plays Peter Parker) and Emma Stone (who plays Gwen Stacy) have a very good dynamic most of the time, and I quite enjoyed the first part of the movie (pretty much up until Electro turned up). It just goes steadily downhill from there, though. The two main problems I had with the film in general where, first, that the villain’s motivation seemed tenuous at best to me and, second, that there is no suspense.

I think, for me especially, the motivation issue is a matter of investment. I had no investment in the character of Max Dillon (played by Jamie Foxx), though I found the portrayal of that particular character very believable from Jamie Foxx, who I wouldn’t have associated with that sort of character. But Harry Osborn? Nope, nope. First issue being that he is introduced in this movie, and then is apparently Peter’s best friend even though they’ve not seen each other for years, and second being that I thought he overreacted to Spider-Man saying he would have to consider it.

Oddly enough, while I was watching it, I found the changes from arguable good (or at least not bad) guy to bad guy quite strained, though when I thought about it, it seemed reasonable. I had more problem with Harry Osborne’s transformation than Max Dillon’s mostly because it is clear that Max Dillon is unstable to begin with, less so with Harry, though they hammer it home soon enough. The main problem I had with Harry’s transformation and with the film in general, was one of suspense.

The main reason that Harry’s transformation into a villain didn’t work for me was because it was so obvious. There is a difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing, though that wasn’t so bad. The film’s problem with suspense main came from always, always, knowing what was coming next. This problem was largely created by the marketing, but it is also in the poorly considered script. I don’t want to see someone become a villain and fly off to deal with Spider-Man just before it happens, I can put that together on my own.

A lot of my issue with the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is down to personal taste, I don’t like being bludgeoned with information, I don’t care about Harry Osborne’s boardroom meetings, I don’t care about Peter Fucking Parker’s Fucking Father. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you have the spare time and no qualms about downloading things, you might as well, it isn’t really worth getting worked up about though, certainly.

Urban Shaman – An exceptional version of exactly what it is

For some reason I couldn’t sleep the other night, and ended up finally listening to a book (it’s been a while). I picked Urban Shaman, (written by C E Murphy, audiobook from Audible and Harlequin, read by Christine Carroll) partly because it was the first title that caught my attention and partly because it reminded me of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter, which I listened to some time ago and quite enjoyed. I read and write a great deal of Urban Fantasy, and mostly it annoys me because it tends to be an excuse for shitty romance that happens to involve some sort of supernatural deal. I like to read about women, so probably it is my own doing that I find shitty romance so often.

But, as with a couple of other things I’ve read in the genre, Urban Shaman (the start of the Walker Papers series) did not have such an issue. Unusually for the majority of Urban Fantasy I’ve read (though not for what I write), Urban Shaman starts with the main character, Joanne Walker, having not a fucking clue what’s going on. I expected that a trope of Urban Fantasy would be for the main character to not be aware of the supernatural world and be reticent in accepting it, but this is the first Urban Fantasy I have read where it is the case. Though mostly when I write in the genre it turns out that way.

It’s fairly in the title of the review, but I thought that Urban Shaman was great: good story; interesting characters; believable character dynamics; and an obviously well considered fantastical world. It had basically everything I want from a story.

What it reminded me of, for a number of reasons, was Jane Yellowrock, and all in good ways. I appreciated that it didn’t have the same notions behind it, though. There wasn’t even all that much romance.

The story is about Joanne Walker, who is stabbed through the chest by a Celtic god and awakens to her shamanic abilities to find that she is basically the only person who knows enough to kick the Celtic version Wild Hunt back to where it belongs. The interesting thing, mythologically, about the Wild Hunt is how many people had a version, the Celtic version, lead by the god of death and nature, Cernunnos, collects the souls of the dead and takes them to the afterlife.

The main criticism I had of the premise and its execution is that it seems to very easily lead to making a Mary Sue of the main character. It doesn’t go quite that far, but it is damn close. Joanne Walker, from an atheist and skeptic, becomes an apparently fully fledged shaman within something like four days. This isn’t quite the case, but it is the impression I get from the transformation.

Other than the issue with the magic, the short time-frame works very well in establishing the sense of urgency, and somehow the character development manages to not come across as hurried for a pair of reasons. The first reason being that the reader (or listener in my case) starts in the position of knowing nothing about any of the characters, and second being that the most significant of the character changes are actually brought on by magic (with the way the main antagonist is dealt with being fairly reminiscent of the way that T A Pratt’s Marla Mason deals with the Walking Death in Dead Reign, which is also something that everyone ought to read).

Celtic deities and beliefs aren’t my speciality (mostly I know about Norse Mythology), but the way that Cernunnos is portrayed was engaging, again evoking the Walking Death from the Marla Mason series, in that he comes across as a god (without the capital) would: this being someone who is used to having the most power in any room, but is not actually all powerful. The use of Celtic myths came across as well researched, and when I checked I found that C E Murphy is an Irish American who currently lives in Ireland, so I expect she knows what she is talking about.

Overall, as I said in the title of the review, Urban Shaman is a brilliant version of what it is: a Urban Fantasy about Celtic mythology, C E Murphy clearly knows what she is doing.

Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 1: Deep Breath – Peter Capaldi clearly knows what he’s doing

I’m a fan of Doctor Who, which I think came up in a different review, and so I was kind of excited for the new season, especially considering the previous episode. The chrismas special in which Matt Smith was replaced was, as many can agree, far from a classic. And while the episode: Deep Breath, is at once far too obvious and way overly obfuscated, it was still great fun to watch. The major reason for the enjoyability of the episode would be the new actor of The Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who I thought was great fun to watch. Admittedly the part he gets (being the new iteration of the doctor) is fun in itself, but he absolutely sells it.

The next may include spoilers, I am not sure since I haven’t watched the trailer, but fair warning.

The episode opens in London, at whichever point it is that Vastra and Jenny and Strax live, with a Dinosaur roaming the city, and everyone gawking at it. The thing about the Dinosaur is that it’s purpose is almost explicitly to just make the trailer look more interesting. Instead of being part of the story, the not unimpressive CGI monster is more like comic relief crossed with the launching place for the story, which isn’t actually a problem, it’s just that some of the initial trailers made it look like the Dinosaur would be an integral part of the story.

From there the story is actually mildly interesting, showing very clearly the differences between Matt Smith’s Doctor and Peter Capaldi’s, which was a good notion. The problem being the execution. What I liked about the episode was that it seems to have moved somewhat away from the previous doctor’s lack of any acknowledgement to the previous doctor’s (barring River Song). One of the things that was fairly irritating was the reference to the SS Madam de Pompadour, which was so completely obvious it was ridiculous (when it is explicitly mentioned) except that the doctor doesn’t remember.

The actual story of the episode is similar, in some ways, to the episode about the Madam de Pompadour, in that it is about robots killing people for their body parts (thought there is significant difference in what is going on). I quite liked the darker version of the Doctor, one of the problems I had with Matt Smith was that the contrast between his usual attitude and his ‘dark’ and moody stuff moods were too pronounced, and to be honest he wasn’t as good at the darkness as either of the previous two doctors.

To be honest I liked the episode, it seems like a step in the right direction. One of my friends, who hasn’t seen the episode, who is also a fan of the show, or was, complains to me constantly, of various things really, but in this case about the shift that Moffat’s writing has made from ‘hard’ science fiction to ‘soft’ science fiction. I personally would have always described the new series (from 2005) as science fantasy, which is the science fiction that I like to read, and personally I don’t have a problem with the shift in the genre, but I have a problem with the writing.

There are two big things that I want to talk about in the episode, and neither are really important to the rest of the episode. First is Clara’s response to the regeneration of the Doctor, which is a bit reminiscent of Rose’s reaction when Christopher Eccleston was replaced by David Tennant, though far more extreme. I didn’t like it, for two reasons. First was that Clara saw the Doctor change and didn’t really have time to be annoying about it, which Rose did when it happened to her. Second was Vastra’s reaction to it. While I may have just said I didn’t like her reaction, it is totally and completely reasonable, the Doctor changed his face but also he totally changed his attitude and fairly lost his mind, becoming absolutely another person. And Vastra fairly flips her shit about it, Clara’s reaction I mean, which I don’t think was reasonable. And the point of that scene was for Clara to realise the error of her ways, which she did not.

The second thing is Vastra and Jenny’s kiss, which was meh, really. I know actual lesbians, so there was no novelty in it except for how annoying it was when Jenny died and they didn’t kiss (you would fucking kiss your wife when she came back from the dead). It seemed kind of reasonable, though the fact that there needed to be a rational for someone kissing their wife when they thought they were about to die is kind of bothersome. I’ve gotten the impression that some people thought it was a big deal, and it sort of is considering that Doctor Who is a kid’s show, but it wasn’t a big deal.

I liked watching the episode, but there were a fair number of issues with it. If you’re a fan you’ve probably already seen it, and if you’re not then you should start somewhere else (with Christopher Eccleston).

Apologies

So I put up a review of a book called Urban Shaman yesterday, but I’ve had to take it down because I’m using it for a school thing and I can’t have it online until I hand that in. It’s a bit annoying, mostly because I was only told this just today, about the same time I took it down, but it isn’t really a big deal. The post will be back up by the end of the week. Hope no one minds.

Mirror’s Edge – A brilliant mess of a game

I just finished yet another playthrough of Mirror’s Edge, probably the twentieth time I’ve played through it. I just watched this year’s E3 video and I figured I would talk about why this is one of my favourite games, despite it never being all that popular (at least as far as I know). This’ll probably sound cheesy, but I think it comes down to heart, in the metaphorical sense. I think one of the reasons I like the game so much is about the same reason I like portal so much, because it seems to be doing exactly what it wants to be doing, if you know what I mean.

I think that the reason it isn’t as popular as it seems to me it should be is that it doesn’t seem to work quite as well as it wants to. What I mean by that is that while the whole running thing is a really cool notion, it doesn’t work quite perfectly. One of the reasons I love to replay the game is because in a lot of places (anywhere outside usually) the way you get where you are going can be almost endlessly varied, but then it sort of falls apart when you get to your destination and there is only really one way to go.

Having literally just finished the game the first example that comes to mind is the inside of the Shard, which is very close to linear. During the couple of fights, admittedly, there is quite a lot of range, but when you are getting from place to place there is only one way. Now it isn’t so unreasonable to assume that the maintenance routes inside a building aren’t sprawling open ended maps, but they are also likely not only traversable by some sort of superpowered respawning daredevil. Sure I wouldn’t use them if there were open, but I feel like that the maintenance tunnels or whatever should be more open to the boring way of getting around. Mostly I think this because when my computer is lagging like fuck and I just keep dying because the game doesn’t want to tell me which ledges I can grab onto, or just won’t grab onto them, I find that I’d rather just take the stairs, you know?

But there are some incredibly fun parts when you are running and climbing all over the rooftops getting from place to place, I tended to quite like it even when I was doing this all by myself, with very little sense of urgency, just because I can explore, and look for the fucking bags, which I haven’t even found all of yet.

Even though I love the game I have no qualms about admitting that even the gameplay doesn’t quite work. When my computer wasn’t being a bitch and everything worked as it should have, there were still a couple of problems, most notably, in my mind, being the roll you can do when you drop a fair distance. If you don’t roll you land heavily and pause, sure, reasonable, but when you do roll, you still pause before you get back to the running. The whole point of the roll being that it lets you get back into the flow means that the mechanic is not doing what it should.

There are a fair number of nitpicks to be made on the game (the one I always notice being that faith’s tattoo is different in the cutscenes to in gameplay), but I still really enjoy it and I certainly am excited for the release of the sequel, which is a prequel, I think. I don’t really know. But from the most recent video, interspersed as it is with accented people speaking in buzz-talk, it looks like a great deal of effort has been put into making the movement much more dynamic.

If you haven’t played the game, you should, if you have played it and didn’t like it, you should try it again, and if you played it and like it, then I don’t really have instructions for you.

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