The last time I tried to read a horror novel by Dan Simmons I was bored out of my mind, but I still managed to finish it. This time I gave up 150 pages into the book. I expected a nice, It-ripoff, but the book didn’t even manage to copy the good stuff from King. The plot is about some evil that hounds a town in the summer of 1960 and only a group of kids can stop it. First and foremost it’s hard to differentiate between the kids, they have hardly distinct voices and all sound the same. Also, Simmons doesn’t really make them interesting. The book also has the pace of a snail, which may be due to the fact that it has no threatening or horrifying mood. Yeah, some bad things happen, but you don’t really feel the tension. Neither does Simmons captures the small town atmosphere, he doesn’t give the place character. It feels as generic as the kids and the evil threat.
Gaiman’s newest book is nicely done, but like Wolves in the Walls and Coraline, two books by him also written for children, it’s a nice but not very exiting read. Maybe Gaiman is just better at writing grown-up stuff or I can’t enjoy books written for children anymore. I’ve tried and failed to reread the Narnia books this x-mas (which I loved when I was younger), which probably means I’m unable to get into the right mindset to enjoy such simple stories anymore.
Which I admit is a shame, because I liked the setup. A boy brought up by a vampire and a graveyard full of ghosts is a neat idea and has some potential, but the execution was far to restrained for my taste. The book is made up of single chapters that show short vignettes of the childhood of Bod, in one he meets the ghost of a witch who wants a gravestone, in another he goes to school and has to deal with bullies and so on. It’s all very nice and safe and not very memorable. But it’s an easy and fast read, so for children it might be good.
Stardust is about a young man going into the magic realm of Fairy to catch a fallen star for the girl he believes he loves, only to discover something even better. It’s told in the tradition of fairy tales albeit with a modernized look. The characters have real depth and aren’t just some archetypes, and the story goes on much longer than most fairy tales do.
That said, Gaiman successfully captures the essentials of what makes fairy tales such enduring classics: normal people who turn out to be something much more, powerful villains who get what’s coming to them, true love and all that. Depending on the skill of the writer this can either feel like incredibly ridiculous stuff that makes you wonder why people ever liked this kind of story, or like in this case, it working flawlessly, spinning a magic and enthralling the reader completely.
Stardust is also one of these books that is a joy to occasionally reread, not to discover some new facet, but to sink into the comfort of knowing that you’re in the hand of a masterful storyteller who knows what he’s doing, where every word and sentence has just the right feel and creates the same magic it did the first time you read it. In it’s way it’s a very conservative book, comfort reading that doesn’t challenge, but it’s so good at what it is that I can’t really find fault with that.
TSTMATS is an odd book. Part of a line of retold fairy tales by different writers, it cuts its fairy tale into little pieces and splices them into a present day narrative about a group of young, struggling artists. The fairy tale of Hungarian origin is nicely done, but nothing really outstanding. It’s just a retelling without updating it to make it look more modern, it stays very close to what is the standard fairy tale structure of old, using repetition far too often and mostly devoid of characterization beyond a simple character template.
The frame narrative about the young artists on the other hand is the real interesting part. Told from the point of view of one of the artists who is a wholeheartedly snob, it tries to cut to the matter what is “good” art and what not. Despite the annoying attitude of the main character Brust gives him enough depth to be more than just a common assholish know-it-all. And his struggle to make head or tails of what “good” art is emotional convincing. The book even gives an answer to the question that isn’t just a load of bollocks and feels satisfying. Overall, due to the structure and the unusual mix of content, one of the oddest books by Brust, yet one of my favorites by him.
This somewhat lesser known action-platformer from Hudson Soft for the SNES looks on first sight like an excellent Ninja Gaiden replacement. The animation is beautiful, showing again that platformers had their peak on the 16bit-systems. The style and atmosphere is great, making the best with the admittedly absurd story (Ninja clan gets destroyed by another clan, only one survivor whose brain is placed inside a cyborg and who seeks revenge). The level design is varied enough that you never get bored (although a bit too simple at times) and the bosses are okay too.
The big problem of the game are the controls. While the fighting is rather easy (at times even too easy), the exceedingly important jump-glide, which is essential in many situations, works only half the time as it should. Very often the controls just don’t respond as they should and you will see your Ninja fall to his doom through no fault of your own. This can be extremely annoying later on and makes for a very frustrating experience.
Despite this rather big flaw it’s a very beautiful game, and if you manage to get through it, your frustration with the gameplay will be tempered by some of the best 2d-animations on the SNES.