Friday 26 August 2016

some reviews - House of Shattered Wings, Cinema Alchemist & Under the Skin

Aliette de Bodard - The House of Shattered Wings

Paris has been devastated in a great war between rival houses. Fallen angels are the source of magic in the city and they scrabble around in the ruins vying for domninon. Mortals and immortals all chasing the last wisps of magic in a corrupted world. This book mainly revolves around the story of Silverspires, one of the great houses, formerly the greatest with Morningstar himself as its head. As we follow a cast of characters, as flawed and broken as the city they inhabit.

There is a murder mystery conceit but that just serves as a vehicle for intense character exploration. Mainly of the mysterious Vietnamese Philippe and the ingenue Isabelle, newly fallen and tied to Philippe though his imbibing of her blood (since fallen are the source of magic, people tend to harvest them). There are a host of interesting minor characters, although at the beginnign I was mixing some of the minor, less fleshed out characters up.

There's a lot here to like - the grand houses, the magical system, strong imagery and character. I would have liked to have seen more of post-fall Paris (a city I know quite well through many visits) but it's a world that Bodard will obviously return to. And some of it needs to be returned to I feel, I'd like to explore the under the Seine kingdom more and see inside the other houses so I will definitely return to the world once she writes more.

Overall - Enjoyable aftermath tale featuring fallen angels battling for Paris

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Roger Christian - Cinema Alchemist

Roger Christian is the legendary set designer for Star Wars and Alien and if that in itself doesn't make you want to pick up this book where he tells all about his experiences working on those films then I'm not sure what will.

The iconic nature of the films is such that any insight into how they were made is welcome. But especially the art department's role in creating some of the most recognisable characters - including of course R2D2 & C3PO.

Christian has obviously polished some of the anecdotes that appear in this book and it is a delight to see the films through his eyes, as well as the directors, actors and other crew. Tales of regular ten hour drives back and forth through the desert during low-tech days without mobile phones seem like a different world (the past is a different country after all)

If I had any criticism, and this is only very minor as I hugely enjoyed the book, Christian has the tendency to repeat himself - for example telling you there was a Roman road to Tozeur and then a few pages later telling you the drive to Rozeur is down a straight Roman road or the description of the Chinese restaurant is repeated a page later, or saying that there were no cellphones on page 124 and then repeating it on page 125. It happened so often that it was a little distracting once I'd noticed it and I think a good copy-editor could have picked up on that and smoothed it out for the reader. But, as I say, a minor criticism.

I enjoyed the Alien chapters more than Star Wars, but mostly because I'm a bigger fan of Alien than Star Wars (Geek friends don't hate me!) It was also interesting to read about his own directorial work on his own film Black Angel and his stint on Life of Brian (which re-used a lot of the same locations as Star Wars as any good fan knows)

There are a set of nice photographs of Star Wars and a storyboard of Black Angel but I wondered why there were no pictures of Alien.

Overall - This is an excellent book to add to the shelf if you are a Star Wars or Alien fan or any sort of film buff.

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Michael Faber - Under the skin

This was recently made into a film (a major motion picture in the jargon of the industry) starring Scarlett Johanssen which I haven't seen. It is the story of Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. I'm not sure it's much of a spoiler to say - she's an alien - but Faber seems to think so as he doesn't explicitly reveal that fact for a third of the book, although it's obvious from very early on. For some reason that conceit is a little irritating - it's a bit like watching a zombie movie where no-one is saying the z-word. 

The glimpses into the POV of her victims is fairly repetitive, apparently all men can think of are tits - but then again that is her main feature, as Faber continuously tells us.

On a sentence by sentence level this is good writing. It just failed to engage me overly much, although I read it in just a couple of days of easy reading. And in the end it left me a little cold and unchanged. But I do want to watch the film to see how it has been adapted. 

Overall - It may just be a very long advert for vegetarianism

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