Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: "Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith

As the first installment in a trilogy, Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 was an intriguing historical thriller that I couldn't stop reading. A friend first mentioned the book to me as a passing recommendation, and then I saw the preview for the film based on the book starring Tom Hardy. In true fan girl fashion, and what has become my preferred way to view films based on books, I sought out a copy of Child 44.

Initially, I didn't know what I had gotten myself into as the book started out with a scene that seemed disjointed from the main narrative. The book starts with a scene following two brothers as they try to trap and kill a stray cat in the woods so they can bring it home to their mother and eat it. They are starving, it's the middle of WWII, and the people of Russia have resorted to things worse than eating rats to survive the unrelenting hunger.

Then, the narrative shifts and we are vaulted twenty years into the future. The third person omniscient point of view allows the exploration of many of the character's thoughts, but the narrative most closely follows a high ranking M.G.B. officer by the name of Leo Demidov, whose perspective is shaped by the brain washed blur of Stalinism. As a member of the secret police, Leo fears his own colleagues and upward mobility as much as the general public fears him. To the reader, and to the general public of Stalinist Russia, Leo is a symbol of all that is wrong with the Soviet Union. I began to question why I was following this man and his blind belief for such a flawed ideology.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Movie vs. Book: "Wild: Raw and Real"

I'm going to start this off by saying that I was pretty sure this movie would have significant voice over. I expected passages from the book read over top of scenes, Reese Witherspoon's voice retelling Cheryl Strayed's powerful journey across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Instead, what I got was probably more true to the actual journey itself; a sense of silence and introspection. Cheryl Strayed wrote her memoir about her hike on the PCT nearly twenty years after the hike occurred (click here to read my book review). Nick Hornsby adapted her story into a smart screenplay brought to soul stirring life by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Strayed struck out on the journey by herself with no sense of what she was about to endure physically or psychologically. She walked to return to her self. She walked to remember who she was and to find out who she had become after the devastating death of her mother. Cheryl's life spiraled downward and deconstructed her marriage, her path in college and her faith in any God that might exist. She was a hollow person seeking to fill herself through reckless sex and drug abuse. Her decision to hike the PCT undoubtedly saved her life.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

In times of national economic upheaval the public seeks escapism. Some have credited Shirley Temple films with helping pull the nation's mood up out of the Great Depression. In this day and age we are no strangers to the economic chaos that surrounds us and the faceless corporations that seem to be gaining more and giving less. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is strangely visionary in that it provides us with a foreboding future in which nearly all of humanity is destitute and starving. Their only escape is an immersive virtual world called the OASIS, but now even that is at risk of being taken over by a corporation that wants to make the OASIS exclusive and expensive.

The OASIS was developed by a brilliant billionaire with Asperger's by the name of James Halliday. Halliday invents the OASIS as a place where people can go and interact and learn under assumed identities using Avatars. The OASIS grows, spawning worlds full of games and challenges, but it also has its practical uses for business, news, and education. The most important thing to the protagonist of the story, Wade Watts, is that education in the simulated world is free. Not just free of cost, but free of bullies that made his real-life schooling experience a nightmare. 

What sets this story into motion is the death of James Halliday. For it us upon this fateful day that Halliday's avatar Anorak, announces to the world that he has arranged a contest open to everyone within the OASIS to uncover the Easter Egg that is the key to his fortune and power over the OASIS. Halliday programs three keys to three gates within the expansive universe of the OASIS, and he provides the public with the first clue to find the first key. And thus the race for the Egg begins.