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Book Review: The Big Time by Fritz Leiber (Series, #1)

June 3, 2014 1 comment

On a yellow backgrond, two boxes over each other display a snake and a spider. The title and author of the book are written on the boxes.Summary:
It’s the Time War, and the Spiders and Snakes are battling each other up and down the timeline in an attempt to give time the ultimate outcome they each are hoping for.  Nobody knows precisely who the spiders and snakes are, but they briefly resurrect humans and ask them if they want to participate in the war.  Those who say yes become the soldiers, nurses, and the Entertainers who provide rest and relaxation for the soldiers in the waystation.  One waystation is about to hit a ton of trouble when a package shows up and a soldier starts talking mutiny.

Review:
I’m a fan of time-travel as a scifi trope, and I liked the concept of a time war, so when I saw this sitting on my virtual ARC pile, I figured it would be a quick, appealing read.  The book is less about time-travel, and more a type of scifi game of Clue, with everyone trapped in a waystation instead of a house trying to figure out who turned off the machine that connects them to the galaxy, rather than solve a murder.

The book takes place entirely within the waystation.  The waystation exists outside of time to give the time soldiers a place to recuperate without the pressures of time travel.  All but one of the soldiers are men, and most of the Entertainers are women.  The one female soldier is from ancient Greece, the clear idea being that her era of women are the only ones tough enough to be soldiers.  This definitely dated the book and led to some eye-rolling on my part.  On the plus side, the book is narrated by a woman, and she is definitely one of the brains of the bunch.  There thus is enough forward-thinking that the sexist distribution of time soldiers doesn’t ruin the book; it’s just irritating.

The crux of the book is the soldiers wondering who, exactly, is telling them what to do up and down the timeline and worrying that they are ruining time, not to mention the planet Earth they once knew.  The soldiers are told they’re on the side of the good guys, yet the good guys are insisting that Russia must be stopped at all costs, even if that means the Germans winning WWII.  Thus, the soldiers are awkwardly paired up with Nazis in the fight.  It’s interesting to force the Allies to attempt to see Germans in a different light.  However, the whole idea that Russia (and Communism) will ruin the world is just a bit dated.  It’s easy to get past, though, since the dilemma of how to know if who you are following is making the right choices is a timeless one.

The attempted mutineer ends up trying his mutiny because he falls in love with one of the Entertainers.

I decided they were the kind that love makes brave, which it doesn’t do to me. It just gives me two people to worry about. (loc 10353)

The attempted mutiny against the cause is thus kind of simultaneously blamed on love and on the woman behind the man starting the drama.  It’s true that love makes people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I do wish the characters were more even-handed in dealing out the blame for the mutiny to both halves of the couple.  On the plus side, it is left unclear if the mutiny is a good or bad idea, so whether the idealistic couple in love are right or not is up to the reader to decide.

The final bit of the book dives into theories about time-travel, time, and evolution.  It’s a bit of a heady side-swipe after the romping, Clue-like plot but it also shows how much of an impact the events of the book have on the narrator.  At the beginning, the narrator states it was a life-changing sequence of events, and the wrap-up deftly shows how it impacted her.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking whodunit mystery set in an R&R waystation in a time-travel war.  Some aspects of the book did not age particularly well, such as the hysterical fear of Communism and the lack of women soldiers, but the heart of the book is timeless.  How do you know if those in charge are right or wrong, does love make you see things more or less clearly, and does evolution feel frightening and random when it’s happening.  Recommended to scifi fans with an interest in a scifi take on a Clue-like story.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Hetalia: Axis Powers Volume 2 by Hidekaz Himaruya (Series, #2) (Manga)

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

China Germany and Italy standing on the globeSummary:
The manga featuring the countries from WWII as characters is back this time focusing more on the future of the nations after WWII instead of the history before WWII.  Russia’s dilemmas with his sisters the Ukraine and Belarus are explored.  Canada’s persistent ability to somehow be invisible to most of the rest of the G8 nations (and also to be mistaken for America).  The various vignettes are punctuated with Japan-kun and America-kun visiting each other’s homes and attempting to reach a cultural understanding.

Review:
Himaruya’s tongue in cheek representation of global politics and national cultures is just as strong here as in the first entry into the series.  I appreciate that he addressed before and after WWII first.  It puts everything into an interesting historic perspective.

The art is still gorgeous.  The countries who are “relatives” of each other are similar looking but still decipherable from each other (although Canada probably wishes he looked a bit less like America).  There is a lot to feast your eyes upon on every page.

I again found myself laughing uproariously at the wit within the pages.  Every country is teased by the author, including his own.  He points out shortcomings without judging them too harshly.  It is what it is, and the more I read nations as characters, the easier it is to see the world as one big loopy extended family.

I particularly appreciate how Himaruya explains the former Soviet Union nations’ problems so clearly.  It’s something that I must admit as an American we didn’t ever really address in school, so this was all new to me and yet I came away knowing the facts from a manga.

That’s what makes this series awesome.  It’s factual without being judgmental.  It sees the humor in local customs and quirks.  And somehow it teaches you something in the meantime.   Highly recommended to all.  Just remember to start reading it at the back. 😉

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Hetalia: Axis Powers, Vol. 1 (review)

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964)

February 3, 2010 3 comments

Black and white poster of an old man wearing sunglasses.Summary:
The Cold War between Russia and the US is going along swimmingly until a US General goes off his rocker, convinced that commie fluids are secretly infiltrating Americans’ fluids.  He issues the Wing 9 order, designed as a fail-safe in case the President is incapacitated, thereby sending the US and Russia flying toward a nuclear holocaust.

Review:
One of my first questions when watching this film was if they’d made it black and white intentionally.  Apparently, in the 1960s, making a film black and white was the equivalent of the modern day mockumentary.  Dr. Strangelove takes a tongue in cheek look at the Cold War’s nuclear stand-off.  To a certain extent, this works.  Everyone in the movie thinks they’re doing what’s best for their country when in reality they’re about to destroy the entire world as we know it.

The film sets out to be funny, and parts of it are.  The stand-off between the general who’s lost his mind and his British subcommander are witty.  On the other hand, the whole character of Dr. Strangelove read as ridiculous and over-acted to me.  Thankfully, the presence of Dr. Strangelove is wonderfully off-set by the acting abilities of George C. Scott who perfectly plays the all-American military man.  Overall, the movie is funny, but not hilarious.

The special effects are good but not stunning for the decade.  Most of the film doesn’t need any special effects though, so this is barely noticeable.

If you’ve got 94 minutes to spare and enjoy dark humor, give Dr. Strangelove a chance.  You won’t be disappointed.  Plus you’ll get to check out the snazzy argyle underwear worn by a general’s secretary.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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