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Book Review: “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut (4 Stars)

Post-traumatic stress, time-twisting alien abductions, mid-life crisis meltdowns, and a meta-story on life.

There are a few plot threads in this book, but they all weave around the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. The stories converge on Pilgrim from various times in his life. Having been abducted by aliens, the protagonist jaunts back and forth through various experiences of his life in a non-linear fashion. This might seem jarring, but Vonnegut’s straight-forward writing style makes the whole experience very manageable—no slogging through the muck here.

From a science fiction perspective, the book has some neat passages about time travel, the fourth dimension and how life would be if time was perceived as a nonlinear experience. The result, in Vonnegut’s opinion, is a sort of melancholy yet content, fatalistic attitude.

Contrasting Pilgrim’s time traveling adventure is the ever-present sense of claustrophobia. The protagonist is captured during World War II (as the actual author was in real life) and loses control of his mobility as a prisoner of war. He is also held in an exhibit at a “zoo” on a faraway planet, where he can be gawked at by the local alien population. In other scenes, while convalescing, he is bed-bound at a hospital. At times, Pilgrim expresses feeling trapped in his career as an optometrist and his marriage. Even as a widow, his daughter is constantly challenging his freedom. The time-travel experiences seem to be the only thing that transport Pilgrim out of these feelings, and give him a broader perspective.

The aliens (Tralfamadorians) have a completely different perspective on time. They know all the horrible parts of life and all the good parts at once. They can cope with the bad by focusing on the good. Many parallels can be drawn between this and dealing with combat trauma.

The jumping around of the plot, feels like flashbacks and sometimes there are flashbacks. However, there is also time-travel. The disjointed narrative seems to emulate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which the character is experiencing and the reader is brought into (due to the structure of the book). Stories within stories, within stories hopping back and forth over Pilgrim’s timeline.

Yet, there is a cohesive story underlying all the shifts in time and space. The framework of a life. And, maybe that’s what life is. A series of disjointed events that might not make sense individually, but when put together form an arc. When focus is pulled back and perspective is given, the entire story can be realized.

While reading this book, it is hard not to think about how the author might have felt, surviving a horrific bombing in WWII as a POW “trapped” underground in a slaughter house. A situation Vonnegut was also not in control of, yet one that was deemed to be his own. Is this book trying to make sense of that experience—or perhaps the experience of all people caught in war?

There is much made of this being an anti-war book, and certainly there is that aspect within the pages. Yet, the storyline, to me, seemed to be more along the lines of pointing out that in life, sometimes things are just really really really messed up. Sometimes things are bad and the reasons are not always so simple and straightforward or make a lot sense. Lines blur. Lives are lost. Vonnegut doesn’t seem to say we should not care about this. Instead, he seems to say that we must recognize these difficulties and give them there due. Reflect on them. Perhaps try to do better. Focus on the good.

As others have noted, this story is told in Vonnegut’s characteristic style of simple declarative sentences. A breeze to read. And yet his writing is a perfect compliment to this non-linear device of story-telling. Billy Pilgrim comes unstuck in time, and you will too as you read this thoughtful tale of dark reflective humor.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Podcast: “Slaughterhouse-Five” (book/movie) Kurt Vonnegut – George Roy Hill (Michael Sacks)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New Podcast Episode for “No Deodorant In Outer Space”!!!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E5 – Slaughterhouse-Five (book/movie)*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 4 Stars “…Post-traumatic stress, time-twisting alien abductions, mid-life crisis meltdowns, and a meta-story on life…

Wilk: 5 Stars “…this is a book that everybody should read if you haven’t read it you should read it…

Rick: ? Stars “…(to come)...

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com)

SUBJECT MATTER:

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Book: “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.” (from Amazon.com)

*** * ***

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by George Roy Hill (Michael Sacks)

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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

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Book Review: “Carrie” by Stephen King (4 Stars)

Coming of age has always been confusing, but never so very bloody!

Phenomenal. King’s debut novel hit the stands hard and quickly established him as a heavy hitter. The story of Carrie White is near pitch perfect. The author’s character development is so excellent it rejuvenates my passion in reading.

The protagonist’s struggle is set in common typical high school woes (feeling awkward and unaccepted). Yet, Carrie’s plight is compounded by her religiously fanatic mother. As a result, this young girl cannot feel accepted at school or home—her only two worlds. She’s the ultimate outcast. This loathsome condition changes when a third-world opens up to her after a now infamous and horrific menstruation scene. Carrie finally becomes aware that there is a side to her that is very different from everyone else: Carrie is telekinetic. This could serve to further drive a wedge between poor Carrie and everyone else; however, it also adds a new dimension to her life and provides temporary reprieve from the crushing isolation she has been undergoing.

The novel is written with a mix of point-of-view accounts from different characters, as well as epistolary entries from characters and other outside references. That was actually one of the parts about the book that I didn’t like (the book excerpts and letter extracts). Nothing wrong with that per se, it just felt a bit clunky. I’m not well-read in the Stephen King universe, but the author seems to get away from this device in what later works I’ve read. That is where I felt the “newness” of the book and the “debut” aspect. Perhaps this helped drive the book forward in a quick fashion while also giving the reader a chance to digest the heaviness of what was happening? I can also admit that adding the epistolary entries gave breath to the story, established world building, and provided believability—however I still could have done without it.

There are some things created in this book that show up in later works by King. Carrie’s religiously fanatic mother reminded me of Mother Carmody from “The Mist” (another great story). Telekinesis seems to have been a fascination of King for some time (reminding me of Fire Starter (which I’ve read) and maybe “The Shining” – which I’ve never read). Interesting, to see these ideas in one of their early incarnations.

The secondary characters of this book, the other teenagers, and the school staff are all very fleshed out. King’s characters are mostly thoughtful and he develops sympathy for most (save maybe Billy Nolan)—their motivations, and even how they question their own motivations. Lots of depth. The author avoids flat caricatures, and provides rally points in between the plummeting horror’s of teenage depravity and selfishness. The reaction of the school staff to what’s going on was particularly heartening, by not making them part of the horror show against Carrie.

That’s another thing, the focus is on Carrie—she’s not fighting against some awful nemesis. Even the antagonist has a weak vendetta going that is more about circumstances. All this adds to the tragedy. Everyone’s tragedy. They are all flawed (save Billy Nolan—he’s just a prick).

King’s character of “Carrie” is done with a masterful hand. I can’t stress this enough. There is a “revenge” aspect of this story that is both satisfying and horrible at the same time. Carrie is the embodiment of tragedy. Her triumph is riddled with concessions of unjustifiable horror. The collateral damage undeniable. Innocents are taken down in the final battle as well as the guilty. There is also the question of the punishment fitting the crime. In the end, it would normally be hard to sympathize with the protagonist when her revenge quest goes so over the top. And yet, we do sympathize with her. Not just for being bullied at school or at home, but because she just wants to have her chance at living.

To me, the book should have ended at Part Two and eliminated the final part which I felt as supplementary and unnecessary—almost like trying to tack on a happy ending or last jump-scare for the reader (sort of ambiguous). The last passage of Carrie’s thoughts are so disheartening and yet so real. King really makes you feel Carrie’s struggle. Truly. It’s perfect.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Podcast Review: “Carrie” (book/movie) Stephen King – Brian De Palma (Sissy Spacek) – Kimberly Peirce (Chloë Grace Moretz)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New podcast episode!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E4 – Carrie (book/movie)*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 4 Stars “…Coming of age has always been confusing, but never so very bloody!…

Wilk: 5 Stars “…Good….

Rick: 4 Stars “Carrie was good, but I would not call it a classic. Liked the Jesus paradox...

(Click the links to read full written reviews on Goodreads.com)

SUBJECT MATTER:

“Carrie” by Stephen King

 Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Stephen King’s legendary debut, about a teenage outcast and the revenge she enacts on her classmates.

Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of…

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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

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Book Review: “Divergent” by Veronica Roth (3 Stars)

A young woman’s action-filled quest for identity in a society of rigid virtues gone sour.

This first person narrative is chock-full of action. Tris is coming of age in a dystopian society that has divided people into personality attributes rather than race, creed, birth or socioeconomic status. Each person is born to a family that ascribes to one of five virtues that are meant to maximize the individual’s potential in a way that benefits the entire of society. After basic schooling, the individual is given a test to inform them as to their strongest leanings. After this test and before adulthood, the individual is given the right to choose which of the five virtue-factions they want to join. They can stay with the one they are born into, or change sides to a different one. However, once a choice is made the individual is to give total loyalty to their new faction. You are to feel loyalty to those that are like you even over bonds of family. A different kind of society—yet not so different since factions have existed in all times of history with varying reasons for loyalty and community.

Most of the story is spent around the character’s choice of faction and what that means to her. As it turns out, her test results were inconclusive, and in a sense she does not belong to one faction over another and probably can fit into more than one. Her prime struggle is that of identity. A key theme in many books of this ilk.

The immediate plot revolves around Tri’s struggle as she earns her way through the initiation rights of her faction of choice. She suffers abuse at the hands of her piers, instructors and the various outside obstacles she must face. These are countered with the relationships and bonds she forms which are also continually tested through the trials and tribulations of the initiation process.

The romantic interest, “Four,” is in some ways a typical misunderstood silent-type. Yet, he did feel real and genuine enough. Believable. Interesting twists evolve as romantic feelings evolve between the protagonist and this attractive, initiation instructor. The romantic element is plays out well enough, if a little stretched out.

One of the strengths of this book is occasional drops of realism. As other reviews have pointed out, the protagonist is of slight frame and build. Her attributes mainly come from her personal courage, wit and ability to be creative and lead. Despite her inherent talent for greatness, she does not become some instant badass that can swipe bad guys away with the back of her hand. She has vulnerabilities that make her real. Opponents can beat her in sheer bids of strength, but she has opportunity to ply her attributes in other ways that demonstrate her equality or superiority.

The story also hints at bigger problems. There are a few drops here and there about what is going on in the greater world. Yet, for the most part the story is very insular, staged around a single city. While, I know this narrative is about the character’s inner struggle to find herself, the plot felt a little stifled after spending so many pages inside the fraternal workings of the protagonist’s faction. They were interesting in some ways, but not compelling. I was curious to know about the differences in the factions, and how they developed their new initiates into ascribing to their philosophies, but it got old. The author tried to make the stakes high (death and alienation), but ultimately the characters were playing games that didn’t feel all that original or deep. It lacked a true “philosophical” or “vocational” feel (in some ways).

Much is made of “simulations” that the characters must undergo, which test their strengths and loyalties. Everyone is getting injected with this colored liquid or that colored liquid. Then they are transported into a virtual reality type environment where surreal things can challenge them. All these injections are part of a bigger plot that gets outside the initiation rituals and ties Tris into the seedy underbelly, which lies behind the altruistic vision in which the factions were founded. Yet, this comes into play late in the book, and was somewhat hard to swallow. A lot of what is seen technology-wise, didn’t feel all that new—and didn’t feel like it had a unique spin on it.

The author includes some show-stopping drama. These moments are sort of sparse and jarring, but they instantly ground the story. The occasional horrific act that befalls the protagonist (or her cohorts), remind the reader that even though the initiation rights are a sort of game, the stakes are indeed high. I feel like this book would have been better if it was cut down some, with more focus on these heavier elements.

All in all this is a book, heavy in adventure and action. The character development is made in a first person narrative and the protagonist is believable, but it’s slow going with her. Her struggles are relatable and appropriate to her age, but there is something in the overall tone of the story that works against that a bit. However, the moments of serious drama are thoughtful, and give the reader some good nuggets to chew on though a few of the lighter parts.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website. (www.nodeodorant.com)

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Divergent” (book/movie) Veronica Roth – Neil Burger (Ashley Judd)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

New Podcast Episode!

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

PODCAST:

Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

S2E3 – Divergent (book/movie)*

WRITTEN BOOK REVIEWS:

Ryan: 3 Stars “…A young woman’s action-filled quest for identity in a society of rigid virtues gone sour…

Wilk: 1 Stars “…This book is reductive and dull. People that enjoy it are not for me. A terrible waste of time…

Rick: 2 Stars “…The story is too convoluted and concerned with what is cool or aesthetic to teens in the context of the market to have any fidelity or at least a genuine investment with attempts on logic and pure creativity...

Guest: Amanda Budnik: 4 Stars “…I thought it was an overall just arching story about a teenager trying to find out who she is, and where she fits in in society, but in a much…

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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in News, Podcast

 

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Book Review: “The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch” by Joseph Delaney (3 Stars)

A heroic fantasy blending in just the right amount of horror for young readers to delight in.

Our young hero is the ill-fated, seventh son of a seventh son. Thomas Ward was born to a farming family living out in the countryside. His Mam has a little something extra going on with her, and planned quite an interesting and unique future for her youngest born. Through his mother’s influence, it has been decided that Ward will take on an apprenticeship with Mr. Gregory. This strange vagabond has the auspicious profession of being a sort of ghost-hunter or witch-finder. Dangerous, but necessary work for keeping the darkness at bay and insuring that the local people of the County can be free from unruly harassment or worse from the ghosts and ghoulies prowling about.

This is a Young Adult story that moves at a good pace (after it gets going). The words are easy to digest for young readers and the occasional big word that comes around gets explained succinctly and in context. However, all this is contrasted with dark tonal themes. There are a few more visceral elements and descriptions that “up” the horror meter into a more mature level. Fans of the darker genres will delight in the real risks at stake: cannibalistic witches, missing limbs, and the typical creepy ghosts born of horrible tragedy. Some of the antagonists are down right scary (Mother Malkin is straight out of Terminator 2).

Also, the creepy settings that are done very well; I could really picture Ward’s struggles as he tangled with the various antagonists. The author does a good job of bringing this element in without going over the top. More sensitive readers might not care for the imagery, but many of us enjoy a scary tale now and again. So, I felt this element added in abundance to the narrative.

Another thing Delaney does, is develop a nice perspective for the protagonist. Traditions, methods, outcomes are all questioned. Right and wrong are not so simple to figure out—even when dealing with ghosts and witches (blood-witches at that!). Ward and his mentor are always conscious of the possible consequences of their actions, they seek to avoid undue cruelty less they find themselves acting just like those they are fighting against. Some of this is typical “Saturday morning cartoon” morality, which gets wrapped up a little too easily. However, I felt like the horror elements balanced this out, so that it didn’t always feel like things were being resolved too conveniently. Perhaps the tone is just right for the YA audience?

A particularly great character is that of “Alice.” She is a girl around Ward’s age who has been raised by witches, but is not quite a full convert. Ward is warned about her, but he is also told to follow his instincts. Alice provides great elements of mystery as we go along for the ride with the protagonist as he constantly wrestles with how much he should trust her. This seems to be setting up a long-standing conflict for books to come.

The world-building elements were also a nice touch. At times, it almost felt like the author was establishing rules for a future role-playing or table-top card game. I enjoyed learning about the different types of monsters that populated the County and looked forward to encountering them. I could see looking forward to reading other books and discovering even more. Ward’s mentor and his mother fill in back story in just the right amount and at just the right times (Always fun exploring new worlds without being overwhelmed). I also really enjoyed all the folklore learned by the apprentice—especially when his mentor explained the different methods that were available with dealing with the creepy-crawlies and things that go bump in the night.

I feel that this story is great for fantasy fans and those interested in dabbling in horror. The elements blend well. The story doesn’t get so deep as other great fantasy authors, but there is something really good here. Perfect for a Young Adult Audience.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website.

 

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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