The Best Author You’ve Never Read Vol. 6 : Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

I’m not sure if he belongs, because you’ve probably read him…but not lately. With the latest installment of Jurassic Park looming on the horizon of this summer’s blockbuster movie line-up, it might be time to go back and re-read the books that spawned the movies. Crichton was first and foremost a science fiction author, with an emphasis on the science. He loved to delve into the scientific minutiae of the occasionally obscure but no less fascinating technical details of the technology and ideas his books explored. This devotion to science could overshadow some of the mechanics of his writing, particularly in his later works, but he’s still nonetheless one of the most influential writers of the 1990’s, and had more success in adapting his prose work into movies than any writer of the era.
On a more personal note, Crichton also provided the base materials for my own literary renaissance, and was the first author to inspire me to want to read, and eventually, write. I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid, and a bit advanced in terms of schooling for my age. My mom decided I could handle Jurassic Park, as I was borderline obsessed with the movie, and got it from the library for me over the summer. I was captivated, even if some of the scientific nuances were well beyond the comprehension of my seven-year-old brain, I loved it. Mostly because of the dinosaurs. But the writing was pretty good too. I re-read Jurassic Park every year, and I always get several waves of nostalgia throughout the prose as I remember particular moments that still resonate twenty years later: The first descriptions of the immensity of the Brachiasaurs and the raw power of the T-rex (always my favorite), the spine-chilling suspense of finding the Raptors escaped from their enclosure, the some-what surreal early encounter with a sick triceratops. I loved every moment, and still do.
Crichton didn’t just write about Dinosaurs. He has other technological thrillers like Sphere and The Andromeda Strain as well as less genre-specific fiction like Rising Sun and The Great Train Robbery. Outside of his books, Crichton also had a passion to direct and produce movies and TV shows. He directed, among others, the Western Sci-Fi Westworld, which appropriately was the first movie to incorporate 2-D CGI (and it’s a great Yul Brenner movie if you’re into that). Even more impressive, Crichton created and was the executive producer on ER, teaming with Jurassic Park buddy Steven Spielberg. In 1994, Crichton became the first and only person to have a #1 movie (Jurassic Park), a #1TV Show (ER), and a #1 Book (Disclosure) in the same year.

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Other than sheer awesomeness and success, here’s why you should read (or re-read) Michael Crichton:

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1) The Science – If you’re any kind of science geek, or you just think science is kind of cool (and who doesn’t?) you’ll want to read Michael Cricthon. He has an ability to explain complex technology and theory that makes it not only understandable to a layman, but also integrates it into an entertaining story. His early works in particular seamlessly incorporate heavy science, suspense, and narrative to create entertaining prose that pulls you in with the depth of detail in the science and the story. He clearly does exhaustive research, which makes the science fiction feel to some of his works a lot more tangible and realistic. Even his non-sci fi novels have elements of research in them, and an author that does his homework can craft a much more authentic story for the reader.
2) Back to Basics – If you’re looking for over-complicated plots or twisty-turny story arcs, you won’t find them here. Crichton’s storylines tend to be a bit more straightforward, which is what enables him to incorporate the heavy science and research aspects so well. A book can only handle so much detail until it gets bogged down, and Crichton understood this. He didn’t focus as much on where the characters were going in the plot, and instead focused on what they were doing and how they did it, and this is where the science comes in. Character development isn’t a big focus, but he still manages to make them feel very real and believable through their dialogue and actions. He also has a gift for giving his characters quirks and faults that make them more genuine.
3) Suspense – Crichton’s gift for suspenseful moments in his works makes the action more intense, and gives many of his techno-thrillers an almost horror-type appeal. Whether its dinosaurs and aliens stalking and terrorizing humans, or the more mundane yakuza assassins and virulent diseases, you can’t help but turn the pages in anticipation. I’d put his gift for suspense against Stephen King’s any day, and the two would be comparable.
As his writing career progressed, and he had more and more books made into movies, his novels began to feel more like scripts or screenplays, which is a bit unfortunate. They were still fun to read, but works like Prey, Timeline, Next, even Pirate Latitudes lacked some of the depth in his previous works, and even skirted the science a bit, making them essentially dialogue and suspense elements and not much else. I’d recommend earlier novels like Sphere, Jurassic Park, Disclosure, The Great Train Robbery, and Rising Sun if you’re trying Michael Crichton for the first time.
He inspired me, and Jurassic Park was the first book that really resonated and made me want to read and write. So I ask you, if you slogged through my own limited prose to this point:
What Book and/or Author first inspired you to read and/or write?

If You Don’t Get It, I Can’t Explain It To You Vol. 1: Warhammer 40K

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In the grim dark of the future, there is only war…

That’s the tag-line for anything from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it basically summarizes everything in the universe in 10 words. You’d think that’s bad…but its not. What the bloody Brits from Games Workshop have created is a black, singular Universe (Capital U) riddled with bloodthirsty traitors, super-human soldiers, terrifying aliens, and a host of other horrors that are solely devoted to exterminating human existence. While it sounds quite nerdy (and it is) the appeal can’t be denied. It’s easily the biggest licensed prose section in any Barnes and Noble (outside of graphic novels…and maybe Star Wars). The Horus Heresy series has sold over 1 million copies worldwide. You can buy Ultramarines:The Movie (special edition) at Best Buy, in the sci-fi section. There’s a Space Marine video game available on major consoles (PS3 and 360) and wilidly successful, albeit older, computer games in the Dawn of War series, and even a few mobile games with fair reviews. In the less mainstream there’s a Role-Playing game, Collectible Card Games, and of course, where it all started…tabletop miniatures.

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I digress: back in 1987, the Warhammer fantasy tabletop miniature game got a sci-fi brother in Warhammer 40K. This is the basis: you pay oodles of money for resin/plastic/metal pieces you assemble and then paint, all in order to play a rules-based tabletop game where you try to kill your opponent (or opponents) by rolling dice, casting spells, and using templates for bombs, flamethrowers, etc. The nerdiest of the nerdy, maybe outside of LARPing, yet it resonated.

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The universe itself is all about survival. I tried the tabletop, and it was fun, but the universe to me is more enticing than the game that spawned it. I consume the books like they’re crack, basically. Any video game they release, I attack. I’ve played all the Dawn of War‘s, repeatedly,and Space Marine. I could dive into all of the things that make it awesome to a geek, like the 4 chaos gods, the general grudging acceptance of short, violent lives, the menacing aliens and vile traitors. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you why you non-40K geeks should try at least reading some of the books.

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1) “Abandon All Hope” – The scope of WH40K is huge.It quite literally encompasses an entire universe. And in this universe, all human life is expendable. You’re one of trillions upon trillions. If you die, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme. And its kind of a nice change. Yes there are characters that play a bigger role, and maybe aren’t as disposable, The lingering spector of death, however, is always there, and you never know if your favorite character is going to survive, They usually do…but you never know.

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2) Visual Emphasis and Settings – Part of what the Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing company for all of its books, looks for in its writing is a penchant for lush visual description. The settings of WH40K fiction are key components to most of the stories, and are generally epic and beautiful in scale. From giant hive cities stacked upon each other for generations and  gothic, immense starships lined with statues and bristling with weaponry, to verdant death worlds intent on killing and deep jungles lined with indigenous life and hiding dangers in the shadows. They strive for visual scale in their writing, and its one of the most consistently strong pieces of Black Library fiction.

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3) There is Only War – If you’re looking for romance, it’s not here. Any kind of humor (except maybe gallows) for the most part, not the focus. Excepting one very notable and awesome exception which I will discuss later. The very vast majority of Black Library 40K fiction is solely focused on all facets of war and conflict, and many do it very well. Not all, however, are based around the direct, shoot-at-each-other and then eventually hack at each other with swords. Some of the best things I’ve read from Black Library follow the espionage, cloack-and-dagger type storylines, where they fight behind the scenes of major conflicts to root out the underlying cause.

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4) Characters – As with most war and spy-based fiction, the characters matter more than the setting. You get attached to the well-developed ones as they struggle to make a difference in their tiny pocket of the universe. It can be gratifying to see a lowly human triumph in the face of world-crushing warp entities and gigantic super-human warriors. Some of the better writers also paint very vivid pictures of just how incredibly, incomprehensibly powerful some of these super-soldiers and chaos gods are, and yet still make them relatable to a real-world reader.

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5) Continuity – For the most part, there’s a great bit of continuity in the WH40K universe, not as a whole but in self-contained galaxies, or corners of the galaxy, where whole series of books take place and you see how the characters shape the balance and outcome of a long-term conflict. This probably appeals to nerds mostly, and sci-fi war nerds more exclusively, but its a cool facet of the fiction that should appeal to all readers. In particular, Dan Abnett is the prime example of this, as he has several series of books, some 10+ works long, that occur in the same corner of the universe (Affectionately coined the Dan-iverse by the folks at Black Library).

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In summation, Warhammer 40K is awesome. It’s super-nerdy, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like anything war-related and science fictiony, this is for you. Don’t let the table-top gaming originis scare you off, some of these authors have cracked the NYT bestseller list. Its worth your time, trust me.

Signing off.

Fables: Legends in Exile – A Review

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I’ve heard so much about this one, and finally found it available at the library (of all places). From wayyyyyyy back in 2002 comes the first five volumes of Fables. Overall, I was pretty pleased, but wasn’t blown away. The ideas were very cool, and seeing the old characters from the fairy tales in the modern world was a new take, but I’ve read so much “Fantasy in a modern setting” fiction, and written some as well, that it takes something special to really pique my interest. American Gods and Anansi Boys had Gaiman’s eerily child-like style, and there were even bits and pieces in Sandman that were better executed.Examples of other graphic examples abound too: Hellboy, the Norse pantheon (old) in Marvel comics, and the Greek pantheon in DC.

But enough of the bashing. I’d still recommend this graphic to anyone who likes stories with a fantastic bend. The characters are the key piece (big surprise) and I feel in a lot of ways, Willingham does better with the character translations than some other examples I’ve listed. They’re a bit blunt and straightforward, but than can be refreshing in a fairytale story. You don’t have to guess at anything.

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Bigby, aka the Big Bad Wolf, is easily the most enjoyable character in a pretty strong cast. He’s the reluctant sheriff of Fabletown, reformed from his pig-chasing days (One of the three pigs even crashes on his couch for a night) and leading the charge to solve the murder of red rose. Bluebeard, which is a Fable I wasn’t previously familiar with. Its based off of La Barbe Bleu, a French fairytale about a nobleman who has a bad habit of killing his wives. Charming fellow. He was chilling, from the callous way he wounds Cinderella during fencing practice and his blatant coveting of Rose Red. Snow White was pretty badass, but fairly one-dimensional. Plus she shuns Bigby at the end, which is total crap.ANd then there’s Prince Charming, who’s divorced more than one princess, Snow White included, and essentially whores his way around the world, leeching off any woman he can wink at, from servers to royalty.

The little details, like the inclusion of the Jabberwocky-slaying Vorpal sword (wielded expertly by Snow White), the sad state of most of the Royal Fables as they had to abandon their fortunes to escape to Fabletown from the hated Adversary, and the everyday problems so many of the Fables face that we all can relate to  like Snow White’s struggle to fund the government infrastructure, Beauty and Beasts marital issues,and King Cole’s incompetence as a leader.

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It all adds together for some good fun, and a new addition to my top ten characters list: Bigby the Big Bad Wolf. Have I seen similiar approaches that were a bit more subtle and better executed? Yes. Would I still recommend checking Fables out? Yes. You can never have enough of a good thing.

4 out of 5 delicious, crispy, I-blew-down-your-house strips of bacon.

Signing Off.

Fiefdom: Book Review

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Okay…this one was a bit wonky. I bought this book simply on Dan Abnett’s name. I did not do any research. This was a mistake.
Fiefdom is an ages-later sequel to a 2006 and later 2008 graphic novel he wrote for 2000 AD (Ah it’s a 2k assault) called Kingdom, and while knowledge of one is not necessary to enjoy the other, things would have made a lot more sense. Like the bi-pedal talking dogs. And the gigantic killer worms. And the very serious lack of physical description or explanation of any of these things.

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I should probably explain: Fiefdom is centered around several packs of Aux, the aforementioned bi-pedal canines that were (apparently) genetically modified by the last humans (called the Masters) to watch over the world while what was left of mankind slept through a new ice age. They’re living in the subway tunnels of Berlin, Germany, by the way. During the course of the novel, the world begins to heat up, resurrecting the aforementioned gigantic killer worms, referred to as Them.
The weird part was the repeated reference to a mythical Aux from the past called Gene the Hackman (I’ll get to that in a minute), who apparently was very good at killing Them. It was all very meta and confusing until I used the magic Google and found out this was a sequel to Kingdom. Then it was annoying, because I read everything out of order.

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Back to Gene the Hackman: as a literary nerd, it was cool to see the Aux were by and large named after literary and historical figures, both fictional and non-fictional, with a canine twist: There’s the fierce beta dam Dorothy Barker, the Alpha-dog shaman Atticus Flinch, the hulking Alpha Ezra Pound, the wily youth Ben Gun, The stoic scrapper Oscar so Wild, and the main protagonist Evelyn War (think Evelyn Waugh). This literary spark was enough to make me want new characters just so I could see what their names were. Also, it made the characters feel a bit more dog-like than human (I’d totally name a dog after any of these characters in a heartbeat).
The cool names and the interesting concept kept me reading through the first half of the book, albeit in a confused and somewhat-muddling manner. More than once I said to myself Dan what the f*** are you going for here? When you get to the fighting though, all the doubt and muddle goes out the window. With the usual flair, Abnett describes even the bizarre dog vs. worm battles in deep detail at a breakneck pace. You don’t have time to think about the weirdness of the setting.
The interactions between the Aux is also very dog-like. Their speech is broken, repetitious, and rudimentary, but their dialogue is executed in such a way that it feels authentic and tangible. I don’t know what human-hybrid dogs in the future would sound like, but I imagine it wouldn’t be perfect English. The speech isn’t distracting; quite the opposite. It’s not the accent but the diction that makes it primitive but accurate for the reader. The speech is also coupled with an emphasis on non-verbal cues, like an Alpha straightening and puffing out its chest, or pack turning their backs and refusing to look at another Aux for fear of being associated with them. The narration is consistent with this basic but effective approach, helping enhance the atmosphere.
Overall, this one was a little weird and confusing at the start, but it wrapped up well. Now I definitely want to read Kingdom so half this stuff makes sense.
8 out of 10 Milk-Bones. Just because I’ve always wondered what they taste like…and I dropped the first one.
Signing off.

Half A King: A Book Review

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Not bad, Joe Abercrombie. Not bad at all. This is the first book of his I’ve read that wasn’t directlt tied to the First Law universe (Although there was a Stranger-Come-Knocking reference), and it was a winner. Joe has a darkness to his work that I’ve always found authentic and real in fantasy settings. Most have a slightly medieval bend, and anyone that’s read a bit of history knows those were dark times (they did call a chunk of them the Dark Ages).
The use of a protagonist with a birth defect (one usable hand) is also a very raw, intriguing concept for a fantasy work. The bitterness and anger we see from Yarvi feels very real, and never contrived, but also isn’t so weighty that it drives the storyline. It’s a key plot piece, yes, but not the entire plot. He incorporates slavery, regicide with a side of usurpation, loads of betrayal, and even (briefly) some romantic longing into this quick read.
The dialogue and descriptors match the bleak setting, and are really the best part of this book. If you aren’t a fan of dark, gallowsy humor, it might not be for you. But any fan of fantasy looking to roll around in the dirt and grit for a few hundred pages would be well served to try Half a King. If you aren’t an Abercrombie fan, this is a very good place to start, and if you end up liking, dive into his First Law trilogy and all the addendums.

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Overall 1.5 thumbs up (only .5 because one was severed, bloody, and malformed)
Signing Off

The Potty Awards: A Grown-Ass Man’s Award Show for Harry Potter.

In the spirit of finishing the Harry Potter Heptalogy, it got me thinking about the books vs. the movies, and the differences between the two. And I also wanted to provide some sort of over-arching opinion on the series as a whole. So I figured I’d hand out some meaningless awards, since I still have some residual Oscar mojo surging through my system (Keaton was robbed).
I’ve got seven fake awards (for seven books) in three categories. All votes were submitted by, counted, recounted, and verified by the supreme ruler of the universe: Me. Without further ado, and any lame racial commentary jokes, here they are:
In the Books vs. Movies Category:
Worst Thing Left Out of the Movies
Winner: Grindelwald and Ariana Dumbledore (And the rest of Dumbledore’s interesting bits)
Man was there a lot to choose from for this category. From the expanded wizarding world in Goblet, to Hermione’s affinity for S.P.E.W., to any salient, interesting detail of Ginny and Harry’s relationship. The winner, however, is Grindelwald and Ariana Dumbledore, and any mention of the shortcomings of Albus Dumbledore. From his fallen sister, to his youthful desire to subjugate muggles for the Soviet-inspired “greater good”, none of it made into the films in any recognizable form. All those little facets of his character, revealed mostly in the last two books, were utterly omitted in the movies, and the result is an old, wise Dumbledore character that knows no faults, has no flaws, and then dies. Feel free to disagree with me, there’s potentially an ocean of nominees for this award, but in the end leaving out these details vastly impacted the depth of a key character.

dumbledore-amp-amp-grindelwald_o_4254589Better in the Movies than the Books
Winner: Sirius Black
Don’t get me wrong, I love Sirius. His name alone is miles and miles of good clean pun (giggity). Gary Oldman did a glorious job (as usual) portraying Sirius as a wizened, somewhat tortured god-parent to Harry, providing support, information, and really awesome brooms. The academy (me) felt that the books made him come off as more petulant than wise, and self-destructively impatient post-Azkaban escape versus the tranquility we get from Oldman in the film adaptations. His evolution from bloodthirsty but relatable rogue in Prisoner of Azkaban to the whining home-body who lets his over-enthusiasm endanger himself, his god-son, and the entire Order on more than one occasion is not for the better. Almost every single character is better (to me) in the written version, except Mr. Sirius Black. If only he could’ve been more like Gary Oldman.

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3) Most Convenient Plot Device
Winner: Fawkes the Phoenix
This award held true for both movies and books, so it’s lumped into this category. There were multiple nominations here too, from the Mandrake saplings (also featured in Chamber; you couldn’t throw a rock in that book without hitting a plot device), Polyjuice Potion, and Time-Turners to the more animate Thestrals, House-Elves, and Hippogriffs. Fawkes is pretty awesome, throughout the entire series, but the introduction is too ridiculous to not win here. Oh look, a Phoenix. And their tears heal wounds of the life-threatening variety. Oh, and they can also carry really heavy things, even though it’s a bird with supposedly hollow bones. It is a magic bird, so I digress. Later: Dude, we’re fighting this big snake that can kill you with its eyes and its venom. Man, I wish we had something that could just know it was needed, blind the snake, drop off a magic weapon that can kill it, heal the protagonist after he gets bitten by it, oh and also air-lift all three of us out when we’re done…well four counting the full-grown adult wizard that assaulted us. Wait, you’re telling me a Phoenix can do all of this? And it was revealed earlier in the text? Well sign me up, I want one. Yet still Fawkes manages to be a bad-ass. As convenient as it was, he blinds a gigantic snake. And his Phoenix song that saddens the entire hospital wing at the end of Half-Blood Prince might be one of the most chilling, saddening moments in the whole series, brought to you, fittingly, by its most convenient plot device.

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In the Best of the Books Category:
Best Execution of a Literary Device
Winner: Multi-Volume Storylines (aka Meta-plots)
The one ultra-consistent part of JK Rowling’s story-crafting is the execution of her long-term character archs and storylines. The series-long character development of Snape, Dumbledore, and even Voldemort kept the reader engaged with the series as a whole. She has a talent for revealing just enough that you don’t feel cheated, and still leave enough detail to spread through all of the storyline. Every little bit you learned about Tom Riddle’s origins, Dumbledore’s mistakes, and Snape’s motivations revealed layer upon layer of the character, and made them feel whole and complete. They were all equally entertaining, compelling, and essential to the heart of the plot for each book and the series as a whole. Rowling had me reaching for the next book in the series as soon as I’d put down the one I’d just finished. On more than one occasion the individual books were overshadowed by the small part they played in the bigger production, and I don’t think it was detrimental to the impact of the series. These books should not be consumed individually, or even out of order. If you try that, much of the power would be lost.

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(Not much to do with the award…but still awesome)

Worst Execution of a Literary Device
Winner: Accents
Oh holy mother of god the accents. I’d rather listen to hag nails on a chalkboard than read some of Rowling’s interpretation of stereotypical European dialects. It starts off bad enough with Hagrid speaking in a transcribed cottony flourish that is border-line incomprehensible. For me, at least, I think she may benefit from my pre- hearing Robbie Coltrane speak the part, making it sound sweeter and giving me a basis for the apostrophe-infested speeches I had to slug through. She does improve with the execution of this accent throughout the series, and by the finish it’s almost bearable. This improvement could also be attributed to a comparison with the crime scene that is the incorporation of the Russian and French accents of Fleur and Viktor. Dear lord, if these two ever had an extended conversation it’d be paragraphs of indecipherable gibberish I’d have to burn to get out of my brain. It was one of the most distracting and detracting parts of Goblet of Fire. It’s like having Boris from Rocky and Bulwinkle try to pull off being a smoldering teen idol, and hearing Bugs Bunny, pretending to be a French Victorian lady, telling Elmer Fudd, “Oh, ze rabbeett? ‘e vent zat avay.” In short: poor decision to transcribe the accents.

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Best Book
Winner: Prisoner of Azkaban
Again, another category rife with controversy. A case can be made for just about every book in the series. I chose to go with the work in the series that set a more mature tone, and indicated a point where the writing started getting better, the meta-plots were taking shape, and the whole narrative got a little bit darker. We see the introduction of Azkaban, a prison facility for wizards patrolled (rather authoritatively) by demonic creatures called dementors. Werewolves are introduced, and they’re not all that bad (way better than Twilight). The Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail, and Prongs facet of the story is implemented, a nifty execution to reveal an important set of relationships in the rest of the storyline. For the first time, real fear is injected into the wizarding world, fear of an escaped psychopath named Sirius Black. This book wins the award for me because this is where I started to get hooked. Stone and Chamber are quaint little books, but they were a bit too infantile and fast for me. Prisoner introduced depth, darkness, and a more controlled pace, and was still edited enough not be 500+ pages. Your winner, Prisoner of Azkaban. Siriusly.

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Best Translation from Book to Movie
Winner: Severus Snape/Alan Rickman
Essentially The Potty Awards Best Actor/Best Picture win in terms of prestige, I cannot say enough good things about the care and control exhibited by JK Rowling in creating this character. His arch, executed throughout the seven volumes, has him as an irredeemable villain, to an uncertain protagonistic force, and back. And on more than one occasion, multiple shifts take place in a single book. Even more so than the main storyline, this is the tale that captured most readers, and it came to a satisfying close in the least Hollywood style (with death). Alan Rickman was personally coached by Rowling in how to portray the character, and for good reason. This was her crowning achievement, the thing that will live on in the memories of every single person that read her books. Choosing Rickman for the role was borderline perfection, and his portrayal was so spot-on, the two have become intertwined for anyone that’s experienced both the books and the movies. One cannot read the Harry Potter books and not hear Rickman’s dramatic pauses in every line of dialogue, or picture his roman sneer down the steep angle of his nose every time he chastises a Potter potion. An off-stage unrequited love story, mixed with potent anti-heroism, angst, anger, brooding, and just the right amount of redemption sprinkled through, is the recipe for one of the mot memorable characters in modern literature and film, and the winner of the ultimate Potty award.

stop-whining-you-know-nothing-about-friendzonesI enjoyed my time with Potter and the crew, and I’m glad I took the time to read all seven books. I can now argue, debate, and geek out with Harry Potter fans around the world. I have sipped the kool aid…and it was good.

Signing off.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: A Grown-Ass Man’s Book Review (Part 7)

tumblr_inline_nk9q0bHi5u1rz49e8And it’s over. Fini. Finale. Voldemort’s dead, Harry’s alive. Sadly some of the best characters didn’t make it (Did you really have to kill a Wesley twin?). The fast pace from the previous six works was ramped up in this volume, and it made perfect sense why they split this particular volume into two movies: A lot of shit happens. Our intrepid group of protagonists seem to traverse the globe as they chase down the Horcruxes.
A big win for Rowling as a writer I have to point out, as I’ve been rather critical of her spacing and execution of large scale action sequences, is the final scene, the battle for Hogwarts, with the brief pause in the middle and the climax, which I shall call Volde-Mort (get it?). It feels like she took more time to get the movement and flow of her description right. It is quite possibly the most important scene in the series, outside of the Snape reveal, and I must applaud the execution. The action was easy to follow, all from Harry’s third person point-of-view, and dramatic enough to feel grave yet frantic enough to be believable. And I also felt what we didn’t see, like the deaths of The Order members, gave a ring of realism to the events. In pitched conflict, you probably don’t see your friends fall, being too concerned with keeping yourself alive, as Harry was. It’s the aftermath, of finding them gone when the fighting’s finished, that stings the most. Magic-infused and fantastic as it was, the real raw emotion bled out in the description, and for that I must tip my cap to Madam Rowling.
The one weak point is the Hermione-Ron moment, where they finally declare their love for each other (about bloody time) after Ron expresses sympathy for House-Elves. Nice moment, should probably not have happened with the world falling down around them. Except Harry’s hurry up already commentary were priceless. Maybe I’d have done it that way just for the comedy.
The Deathly Hallows were an interesting addition that I think Rowling ran out of time to fully flesh-out. The Master of Death idea was intriguing, but in the end the whole thing kind of fell flat. Perhaps it didn’t need the full treatment of detail, not so much in the history but maybe in the functioning of the three pieces together, but if you name the book after them I feel like maybe you should delve in a bit more. I thought Harry would have to use all three in concert (In both the movie and the books) to beat the Dark Lord, but not really. Wasn’t my cup of tea. Sue me.
Some of the bits with the Hallows were neat-o, however. The idea that the Elder wand serves only the person who claimed it from the previous owner was a nice touch. Revealing Harry’s Cloak as special also helped answer some of issues with the idea of Invisibility Cloaks. He and his cohorts seemed to get away with a lot in that thing, and now I know why. The Resurrection stone…was blah. Convenient plot device for the ghosties to come visit Harry one last time. That’s not much of a resurrection. I could’ve done without it.

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The angsty traipsing through the forests, the falling out, the falling back in, the brief conflict at the Malfoy Estate, and the death of Dobby (I loved that over-dressed elf) all moved very quickly and fluidly to the four big key moments we were all waiting for: The Snape Reveal, The Dumbleodre explanation, The Battle for Hogwarts, and the Volde-Mort. All four were well worth the build-up, the three meta-plot pieces in particular did not disappoint. Of course the one I enjoyed most was the Snape (Always…even I got a little misty for that one), but I found myself even more looking forward to the Dumbledore moments. His was a much fuller story in the books, and because I hadn’t seen it in the movies I didn’t know what was coming. The guilt over his sister, the Grindelwald angle, it all made me like him so much more as a literary figure, and dislike his portrayal in the movies.
And now…the Snape. I knew it was coming and still this gave me shivers. Throughout the entirety of the ~4000 page of prose that makes up the Harry Potter Heptalogy (Holy Greek Aliteration Batman!), the meta-plot arch and development of Severrus Snape’s character is her greatest lliterary triumph. As a big, big fan of licensed fiction (Star Wars, Warhammer, you name it) I’ve seen my share of character development through a long series, and I must say I’ve never seen it done better than Snape. And that includes Game of Thrones, to put it in a more contemporary light. To make a reader, especially one with prior knowledge (like me) thanks to the theatrical adaptation, still so invested in every twist and turn of the journey, the details left out and revealed later, or never revealed at all, was nothing short of masterful. He lapped Sirius for title of My favorite Character a few volumes ago (Sirius, incidentally, was whinier and bitchier in the books, and also less Gary Oldman, while Snape was 100% Alan Rickman) and must hold a special place in the hearts of every man, woman, and child that reads these books.

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My overall reaction to the whole Harry Potter series is a positive one. While far from perfect, I’m glad I got over my youthful hard-headedness that made me think I was above these books. They’re good, fun little reads that ate up some serious time on metro rides to and from work. Even before I read them, when I was still very Anti-Potter, I had to admit these books had a real magic even a non-believer couldn’t deny. They had the magical gift of making people want to read like nothing I’ve ever seen. I was amazed at the enthralled masses desire to consume this book, filled with tawdry, somewhat childish prose (at least in the opening volumes) and I couldn’t imagine the appeal. I knew then I’d read better books, and I definitely have read better. But the real glory of what Rowling did, besides make herself a pile of money, is make people want to read that might not have ever picked up a book otherwise. That was the real magic in these books, not the Expelliarmus, or the Accio, or any charms Hermione could master. These books had people reading in droves, and as an aspiring author, I have to admire, and on some level thank JK Rowling for this glorious creation. Especially considering the current literary fads involve Vampires (the not-fun kind, with glitter and emotions) and BDSM. All in all, I’ll take Harry Potter any day.

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2015 Banned Books Challenge