Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shades of Grey

I recently finished Shades of Grey, one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in a while. When someone at work asked me what it was about and I responded with "It's a world where people are separated into classes by, er, color," I quickly had to revise my summary as he said, "Oh, that sounds familiar." 

So there is an unavoidable social commentary aspect to this novel about a world where people are separated into classes by the color they can see. In this alternate future (maybe) Britain (maybe), everyone is selectively colorblind. Your social standing is determined by what colors you can perceive. The world grabbed me to the extent that I had a dream about gleefully telling someone I could see purple neon lines in the floor. 

Because it's Jasper Fforde (who wrote the Thursday Next novels (which everyone should read), the alternate world is absolutely complete. Someone in the blurbs said that the more knowledgable you were the funnier it got, and it's true; if you read it, try Googling some of the terminology. Because it's by Jasper Fforde it is also occasionally hilarious. One particularly tense and frightening scene is interrupted, except not really at all because the moment passes so quickly and is so dryly stated, with the word pwoing. 

One thing I couldn't help realizing is that another author used a similar concept years ago. I read The Seventh Tower back in grade school. Its protagonist is an Orange instead of a Red like Shades of Grey's protagonist. Being written for kids, The Seventh Tower contained a less complex world, fewer puns, and more monsters. It was also, amusingly enough, published by LucasBooks. But it stuck in my head long enough that it's still on my mind (and my shelf) today. 

I never finished the Seventh Tower series. I am, though, going to be on the lookout for the rest of the Shades of Grey trilogy. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Halo: Ghosts of Onyx

So The Onion’s A.V. Club has a section called “We Watched This On Purpose”, featuring terrible movies that no one in their right mind would sit down to...except someone did. And that someone is determined to embrace the badness of the movie and explain just what it did wrong, just what it did right, and just what it did so wrong it was right.
Welcome to my edition of “I Read This On Purpose”. 
Halo novels are not good novels. They simply are not. They’re beach reads for the lasers-and-spaceships crowd; a crowd I readily admit I am a part of. I bought “Ghosts of Onxy” as “research” (a term used in the loosest way possible) for my Halo fanfic. A novel will do what a wiki won’t. Besides, I had a gift card. But anyway, I bought Ghosts of Onyx because it talked about the Spartan-III program, and I wanted to learn about that so that I would in turn learn more about Noble Six.
“Ghosts of Onyx” contains so bad-they’re-wonderful phrases like “no discoveries of a technological nature [were] discovered” and, my personal favourite, “with a shower of sparks the vehicle wedged its midsection in the building like a pregnant queen termite.” (Whut?)
The book also contains pretty much what I wanted out of it, which is how and where the Spartan-IIIs were trained. I now know that there are parrots on Onyx. The whole planet is very Yavin IV-like, a training ground/ school complex surrounded by natural wonders and a mysterious dead civilization. No that’s not original, but it’s a place I’d like to go.
Despite presumably being hired because he’s good at writing about people shooting things, the author is the least accomplished at action scenes. I found myself nodding off most during them. There are, however, some memorable little moments that at least try for a quieter sort of awe.
Kurt-051 is the Spartan-II in charge of overseeing the Spartan-III program. There’s a scene where one of the companies of threes is undergoing their augmentations. (It’s not Alpha Company, but rather a later one; one of the problems I had with the book was that it jumped around in chronology a lot, introducing too many characters and too many dates. But I digress.) The Spartan-IIIs undergo their procedure in a medical bay filled with hundreds of little rooms, with hundreds of kids inside them hooked up to IVs and other whatsits designed to make them superhuman. And Kurt goes around and visits every one of them, putting a hand on somebody’s forehead and talking to somebody else even though they can’t hear him. 
I liked that.
The book also features a scene where Dr. Halsey takes apart a hyperdive I mean Shaw-Fujikawa drive with a spork.  Enough said. 
While we’re on spoiler territory--and we are on spoiler territory-- I must say I liked the end a lot. It tugged at my metaphorical heartstrings. The chances were slim and the Spartans were strong and, well, they pretty much stole Jorge’s death from Kurt’s, right up to his forcing his team to leave him by manhandling them. I was into it. 
A nice, slightly metafictional point appears at the end: Mendez reads a poem for the Spartans’ eulogy, and it’s from a book written in the 2100s called “A Soldier’s Tale: Rainforest Wars”. It surprised me that the book he read wouldn’t be a real-world one, since Bungie tends to be so fond of and clever with making real-world references in their level titles. Instead, they choose for their title this very genetic “Soldier’s Tale”. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean but I feel like it’s supposed to mean something, like it’s holding up pulp fiction as the standard by which to judge other pulp fiction, as well as to salute other pulp--
Between now and when I started this post I’ve gotten more into the Halo universe. I’ve played more games and even (shock!) bought more novels with real money. They’re a lot of fun. I didn’t like Ghosts of Onyx as much as I liked Fall of Reach, but I also read the latter a long time ago.
And Kurt is my fave, so this might be the end of the unbiased Halo talk. I declare these novels to have usual tie-in novel status; they’re fun for the fans. They leave me wondering, if not what’s going to happen next, who it’s going to happen to.