The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

After reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I decided to rent the movie. Turns out the movie is a huge hit, but not bigger than the book. The movie version was made in Sweden and I’m probably in the minority when I comment that it was just OK. The reviews on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes are really positive so go figure.

I give the movie credit for trying to incorporate most of the book, but certain aspects of book are left out. If I didn’t read the book, I would’ve thought this movie didn’t make any sense. There are a number of plot gaps and underdeveloped characters. Moreover, a lot of back story gets lost. The Vanger family has a number of dark secrets but the movie only concentrates on Harriet. Despite all that, the movie clocks in at about 2-1/2 hours. If you haven’t seen the Swedish version yet, you might want to sit tight till December when the Hollywood version comes out.

What the movie does get right is the Lisbeth Salander character. She’s the best part of the book and definitely the highlight of the movie. The movie captured just what I thought the character looked like. There is some of her back story missing from the movie but enough that I didn’t feel cheated.

TGWTDT is second Swedish film I’ve seen over the course of a year. The other movie was Let The Right One In. I’ve commented on this movie and book in a previous post. As usual, I loved the book and the movie was just OK. Again, Swedish film making leaves a lot to be desired. By no means am I qualified to critique directors or actors, but these Swedish movies are…slow and dull. For some reason though they get great reviews. Why is that? What does the rest of the world see that I don’t? Maybe I’m just a product of Hollywood slick movie productions. Maybe my untrained brain can’t process Swedish art like others can. Or more likely my preference of the book outweighs any enjoyment I could have watching the movie.

Progress on my new novel has been slow. I haven’t written much over the last two weeks. It’s my fault – I let myself get too easily distracted. The Chicago Bulls are in the Eastern Conference playoffs, I’m focusing on my health, and other things I use as excuses but aren’t. I read on another writer’s blog that the difference between published authors and ones that are not is hard work. It’s obvious but it’s something I haven’t been doing.

Rock Paper Tiger

I found out about Rock Paper Tiger on Nathan Bransford’s blog about six months ago. This novel by Lisa Brackmann piqued my interest because it was her debut. The story is about an Iraq war veteran, Ellie, living in Beijing. She’s separated from her husband, who cheated on her; suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome; has no direction in her life; hangs out in an artist’s colony; etc. I’m listing all of this because this is how the book reads. There’s not much plot – just a bunch of stuff that happens and none of it seems connected.

As a consistent reader of Bransford’s blog, I expected more of this book. Bransford was a literary agent (recently left the profession) and Rock Paper Tiger was a book he promoted vigorously on his blog. This is a very average book, and I’m not sure what Bransford saw in getting it published. Maybe it was the anti-war rhetoric from the main character, or the many liberal leanings that Brackmann preaches throughout. Maybe I should change my political ideology to get published?

What I do like about this book is how it covers China. I might be travelling there in 2011 so I was eager to dive into this setting and was not disappointed. From what I have learned about Brackmann, she lived there and absorbed much of the culture. This plays out really well in the book. The locales constantly change and gives the reader a nice visual of what China is like from a foreigner’s perspective.

From the reading as a writer standpoint, I like the pace of the novel. It’s constantly moving forward and doesn’t dwell on too much. There aren’t any high concepts that slow down the story. The showing versus telling ratio is admirable. I like the first person style. It serves the novel well especially as the main character bounces to different parts of China. Character development is weak. Ellie, main character, is a pill popping nomad with no direction in her life. I don’t like her. She spends much of the book angry and bitter about her pending divorce – I can understand that but at the same time the character is one-dimensional. The Ellie character reminds me a of a grumpy old man. No matter who she comes across she’s feisty and irritable (like she’s complaining about those damn kids to get off her lawn!) If Brackmann tried to generate sympathy for Ellie, she missed the mark. Ellie also has these flashbacks about the war in Iraq which really has nothing to do with the story. It’s interesting she’s a vet but what it adds to the story – maybe I missed it. The other characters are shallow and don’t add anything to the story. Above all, there’s no plot. Ellie bums around China because she’s friends with some controversial artist, who has a Chinese dissident buddy. She’s wanted by some US security firm for what I’m not exactly sure. I know she needs to get information but nobody provides it. Factor in the online role-playing game, and you’ll be left wondering what’s the point of it all! The ending is disappointing. Nothing is tied up and issues are still open. I’m not left wanting more, I’m left frustrated.

Read this book as a travel companion for China, but if you’re looking for a story that grips you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Oryx and Crake

My continuing effort to read as a writer has landed me in the world of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It’s a wonderful dystopian novel that is poetic in its descriptions. From the first page, the tone is bleak and you already have an idea of how the book ends. Getting there is the interesting part and worth reading.

Atwood tells the story of Jimmy in the present and how he got to his certain position in life. Most of the book is told in flashback on Jimmy’s part. I haven’t read a book told in this manner, which I found refreshing. I found the jumping back and forth between the past and present helped with the tempo. Just when you’ve had enough of Jimmy’s bleak present you’re transported back to his past to explain something.

The poetic descriptions I mentioned above are the downside. I felt that Atwood went off the deep end in describing. The first few pages were a great example. After the first page, I knew Jimmy was living in a post-apocalyptic world. I felt that the description, while well-done, served as too much. I was already wanting to move forward but Atwood wouldn’t let me.

The science fiction was pretty cool. Although I’ve read that Atwood doesn’t like the term sci-fi but speculative fiction – whatever. It’s not to hard sci-fi that I feel I’m reading a college text book and not too soft that it’s a children’s book. The focus is about bio-corporations that splice animal DNA then start to try on humans to develop pills, procedures, etc that make them younger, sexier, smarter, happier, and so on. I won’ t reveal too much more but Jimmy is part of major catastrophe involving some aggressive splicing.

I plowed through this book and almost forgot to read as a writer at a few points. No question the writing is good. Certain passages are long and drawn out but this book delivers beyond just science fiction. It probably more literary driven now that I’m looking back at it. Much like I mentioned in Starship Troopers, O and C is character driven. Learning how these characters grow through the novel is fascinating. Moreover, floating back and forth with Jimmy paints a haunting picture of what could have been with love and success. All the while there is a science fiction theme in the back drop.

Reading as a Writer – Part II

I finished Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers about two weeks but haven’t had a chance to follow-up. It was an interesting read to say the least. Starship Troopers is considered a science fiction classic. Written in 1959, the book was considered controversial because of its military as well as social themes. I’ll stop there; this post is about the writing.

In part I, I mentioned how Heinlein created a world and I entered it. Information came sparingly but enough to keep me reading. There was no info dump that I can recall. What I noticed about this book is how Heinlein molds the main character (also the narrator) from a naive boy entering the military to a confident battle worn man. The development of this character is basically the book with a science fiction back drop.

I find this critical and now start understand what a character driven novel really means. I guess I really never understood what character driven meant, but really paying attention to what Heinlein’s trying to accomplish I get it. The whole aspect of a war with a bug alien race is secondary to a young man’s development.

So if the book was written the other way around where the war against the bugs was primary and the character secondary – would it be as interesting? Maybe. The challenge would be to constantly have action and move the story forward. I wouldn’t care about the characters as much or even find them boring. It’s clear that complex characters make a book interesting; they’re short comings, dreams, fears, desires, wants, etc.

While I’m mentioning character driven stories, I caught The Walking Dead this Sunday and it did not disappoint! Zombies were the back drop but the characters pull you in instantly. I believe this the only way something like The Walking Dead gets produced.  Think about it, if it was all zombies all the time, ratings wouldn’t be great. Have the characters drive the story and draw you in – it’s a success! The show lived up to the hype and I look forward to watching it develop.

Reading as a Writer – Part I

I started reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers last week. I’m critically looking at how Heinlein shows the world he has built. There’s no info dump. There isn’t a bunch of telling or overwhelming detail. Heinlein’s feeding me details he thinks is necessary.  

I also took notice of the opening of the book. It didn’t start with dialogue, or in the middle of an action scene. Instead, it began with the main character explaining his first mission. I wasn’t sure exactly where he was in time and space because it didn’t matter. I’m sixty pages in and I still don’t know what year it is or the main character’s hometown. Again, I’m on a need to know basis and have to be patient and focus on the details given.

More to come on this reading process…

Goodreads

Goodreads is a great website if you’re ever stumped on what to read next. It’s a social network site for books that provides recommendations, book clubs, reviews, etc. You can be as specific or vague as you want to be and recommendations come pouring in. If you’re interested in showing off, you can keep track of books you’ve read. Check me out via the find a friend feature!

http://www.goodreads.com/