Knee-Deep in the Dead, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Contact, Sputnik Sweetheart

Since I got away with a quick series of book reviews last time, I decided to go ahead with another similar post.  I’ve still kept on reading lately, although a few of the novels are forcing to me slow down and process all of it slowly. You know that feeling after eating a whole box of cookies in one go? It’s like that, but mixed with a peculiar form of brain freeze. Not so much in the sense of getting blurry vision because your eyes focussed too long on something rough, I know how to take breaks, but the effects are still there.

Let’s just start with the worst book so we’ve got that one over with.

Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead

I’ve read bad books before. There have been books I wanted to toss across the room after reading. There’s even been a book I wanted to burn after reading. Several books made me feel disgusted at the amount of time I put into them. You know that feeling where you feel disgusted you let that book into your mind, and let it roam around for a while?  The first Doom novel somehow worse than the books that made me feel all these things.

The narrative is a clunky mess. It follows a space marine as he gets taken prisoner for being an unlikable asshole. As luck will have it, his unit gets sent out to investigate some violent outbreak and goes missing almost immediately after. Our hero talks his guards out of giving him their weapons, and starts roaming the military base, quickly running into demons, zombies, and nazi imagery.

Doom is one of those game series that just had an excuse plot for “shoot everything on sight.” I’m not sure why they felt like they needed to go further into the story, as there really isn’t anything to say about it. The book is an ugly beast, full of bad “tough sounding” language, boring action scenes, and just plain awkward explanations of gameplay mechanics. Worse yet, at one point in the book, it noticeably switches writers, making the entire style just suddenly change.

I heard the later books are even worse. Not sure if I even want to try reading those.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

An old classic, and one that’s so short it’s hard to write about it without giving too much away. The main character, Richard Hannay, one day talks to one of his neighbors, a well-traveled American who seems to be in a world of trouble. After allowing him to stay over, Hannay finds him dead in his own apartment. Assured that now both the group after the American, as well as the American’s allies are now after him, Hannay runs and hides while trying to uncover a larger mystery that the man had left him.

Most of the typical “man on the run” type stories are based on this one. Reading it now, there’s barely anything you’ll find in it that another story hasn’t done either. It’s almost a complete collection of every typical aspect of this kind of story… and it’s still fun to read. It still holds up.

Contact

I have a massive respect for Carl Sagan. Despite that, I’ve never sat down to read his books. I’m glad I did. Initially, I expected it to be an extension of Cosmos, or something similar. Then after a while I figured I was reading a science fiction novel. A rare science fiction novel with fully realized and rich characters… A character-driven science fiction novel?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed science fiction novels before. In most cases though, the characters feels like two-dimensional empty beings put up as an excuse to tell a story with that cool scientific or sociological idea the writer had.

Contact actually puts its characters right in the center of the story. humankind, in all its flawed glory, as the center of the story about our progress, as we try to search for other life in the galaxy, and how we would handle it if we would actually find proof that we are not alone out there in the universe.

It took me a while to read this one. Contact was a much richer, dense novel than I initially expected. The main character, Ellie, was a fantastic lead for this kind of story. And I especially loved how, despite the arguments against religion from all sides of the scientific characters, the novel never outright bashed religion’s place in the universe.

Not the best novel I read this year, but certainly up there.

Sputnik Sweetheart

Third Murakami novel I’ve read, and he’s still holding up as one of my newer favorite authors. I read all of Sputnik Sweetheart in one sitting, and it was a great read. Although it doesn’t stand out as much as Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood did, I still felt it to be a fulfilling read.

It’s especially interesting how I’m starting to see themes and ideas carry over from book to book now. Clear references to ideas in other books. For example, a lot of Miu’s character and her story seemed to fall in line with Nakata from Kafka on the Shore, mixed in with a lot of the ideas driving Reiko from Norwegian Wood. I quite liked Sumire’s character, and would go as far as saying she’s my favorite female character from a Murakami novel so far.

It’s a much more straight-forward read than Kafka on the Shore was, but still as full of references to literature, classical music, and characters dealing with severe loneliness as ever.

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