Horns of a Dilemma

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See what I did there?

Dear followers, I am just about to finish Act II of my novel Bonds That Hold Us (my dystopian book) and I’m at a point where I really, REALLY, don’t want to screw over my characters but I feel if I don’t, the story will not be as compelling. I know that in a moment I will submit and decide to be that heartless monster that puts my characters through hell. But for now I am allowing myself a moment of mercy.

Okay, moment is done. Time to go f*** some sh** up. Poor characters, why did it have to be this way?

Peace and love.

-R

Book Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve (The Passage, #2)

By Rafael A. Hernandez

Vampires: a trend that has gained such momentum in contemporary literature that it is a crusade in itself to distinguish the good from the atrocious. Sadly, vampires rarely ever take on a form that is both consistent with classic precedents and fresh so that modern audiences can marvel at their monstrous innovation. Even if this should be done, the stories these creatures inhabit are passing details, met with little to no integrity. Such tales are far too easy to create and feed to the mollycoddled masses. But in Justin Cronin’s running apocalyptic series we find salvation in its narrative damnation. His sequel, The Twelve, is a testament to the developing conceptualization of modern monsters as it is prime example web-like of storytelling.

Staying true to is predecessor, The Passage, this new chapter starts by a series of era skips, giving readers insight to the pre-apocalyptic world they have already become familiar with. Characters are sophisticated and true to their condition while at the same time lay the groundwork for a legacy that is seen in the main story arc taking nearly 100 years later. The main players of this narrative are both characteristically sound and work as fathomable plot devices to the greater story. Though it is regrettable to see the sporadic saturation of characteristic significance. To look at it skeptically, The Twelve is a glorified family lineage with all its members scattered about only to conveniently find each other at the end of whatever trial they pursue. Cronin has a good eye for creating plausible reunions but even such plausibility comes into question after so many occasions. 

It is ambitious to attempt such complexity in a series that would, on the surface, be very forthcoming. Vampires swarm North America, humanity is nearly decimated; end of story. The Twelve proves that events never come so simply nor do plans fall into place. Amongst the chaos of a vampiric apocalypse, lives are lived and philosophies are developed. Destiny, symmetry and coincidence are largely emphasized in every page whether to be rejected, renewed or affirmed by both the reader and the characters. Cronin’s choice to make these themes so prevalent are equally successful and faulted. On one end you see plots run parrallel to each other to finally intersect and convey a most satisfying zenith; whether by explanation or inference, the story comes full form. On the other end, the many plots become cumbersome and disproportioned. Pacing is quick and unrelenting, a plus for such an epic story, but it also restrains the reader from fully apprehending the events at hand. For a paragraph or two, one set of characters are walking through Houston, the next paragraph a different set of characters are infiltrating a saloon. This trend is an understandable narrative technique but is disorienting. 

What The Twelve accomplishes so well with its story is its vast spectrum of characters. There are plenty of people to like and hate. The ethereal immortal heroine Amy is well developed and distant, much to the credit of her sporadic history. Peter Jaxon, the novel’s human protagonist embodies the bravery, sharpness and resolve much needed in such a bleak world. Though the novel is titled “The Twelve”, it is surprising that the twelve main virals (vampires) of the series are scarcely seen. Antagonism is found mainly in the character Horace Guilder, director of “The Homeland”, a slave city under the guise of refuge. Guilder is modeled as one of the greatest representations of manic immortality in literature. Both his human and vampiric states of mind clash in a melee of nonsensical notions, dry humor and volcanic outrages. The Twelve themselves are portrayed less as individual threats and more as one body of voracity; perhaps the intention. 

The scope of this novel is somewhat smaller than its prequel but nonetheless compels itself despite its scale. Characters travel their fair share and endure arduous hardships but the quick pace leaves such details unemphasized. The journey seems less important, paling in comparison to the grueling finale of the novel. Fans of the last book will find themselves enjoying the quicker pace and reassuring aftermath but may think the story rushed and arbitrary at times. But with its superb array of characters and complex, albeit challenging, threads of stories, The Twelve is a satisfying continuation to an outstanding series.

They’re the freest things on earth. Without remorse. Without pity. Without love. Nothing can touch them, hurt them. Imagine what that would be like… The absolute freedom of it. Imagine how wonderful that would be.

Horace Guilder (The Twelve by Justin Cronin, page 361)

Book Review: Children of Men by P.D. James

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By Rafael A. Hernandez

In a social climate that requires politically riveting prose to be coupled with adolescent girls and fights to the death, it is difficult to return to an era that is not moved by militant or heroic agendas. Sometimes our worst nightmares do not give promises of redemption or retribution. Dystopian literature has taught us that in our darkest time, a time that none would wish to face, some terrors may be insurmountable.

P.D. James’ novel Children of Men is a story of such a world where society crumbles not from war or political turmoil but from the crushing truth of man’s inability to procreate. In the fictionalized chronicle following the year 1994 (known as Omega), human beings sit idly as their species comes slowly to an end. All those who were born on Omega are revered as social treasures, fawned over like gods and treated as a cut above regular society. Women develop delusional tendencies and begin treating lifelike dolls as children. Groups of elderly band together in organized suicides, deeming themselves unprepared for the slow depressing prospect of watching the world die. All the while, a simple yet haunted academic is caught between his own notions of acceptance and a nagging hope for the world to persevere.

Children of Men follows Theo Faron, a history professor who becomes entangled in the sociopolitical tug of war between his cousin, the Ward of England, and an idealist group set on changing the condition of their dying world. As the story progresses, readers see very clearly the overwhelming hopelessness that the characters and their society sustains as they wait for the end. Ideas of art, livelihood and relationships are belittled by man’s impending doom. The text raises many philosophical points regarding value and legacy; with nobody to see the results of hard work and development, why do it? Nihilism in its crudest and most sophisticated form becomes the emotional backdrop to most of the characters’ perspectives. Theo displays a hardy resilience to the world’s deconstruction if not in the very least a willingness to disregard it. It is in human kinship that Theo finds the motivation to take his role in potentially saving the world. Through the development of an off beat romance and the opportunity to redeem the human race, Theo is overcome by a confusing but relatable prospect of self preservation. The innate hopeless which seeps into the very narration of the novel is set aside upon the latter half of the book as Theo’s travails are chronicled.

James’ novel keenly emphasizes the importance of self sustenance. Characters such as Theo, his love interest Julian and the Ward of England, each find outlets to aid them in dealing with their lost human legacy. An excellent tool that James has used to diversify the narration is shifting between third person to diary narration, giving Theo a voice for the reader to connect with and understand. Of course, attempting to express every characters’ sentiments would be difficult but providing a singular voice provides much needed concision. Children of Men has a realistic and vapid undertone that serves to engross the reader in this world’s gloom. The novel in all its dismay articulates how crucial it is to hold on to hope even during the most futile times.  

Even to unbelievers like myself, the cross, stigma of the barbarism of officialdom and of man’s ineluctable cruelty, has never been a comfortable symbol.

Theodore Faron (Children of Men by P.D. James)

The shame, the dishonor of it all. Life is surely a deceiving harlequin who makes promises of joy and love but upon her embrace she thieves away your every possession. That is much how I have felt over the course of these past couple weeks. I think I have thrice complained about my lack of time to write reviews and regularly check in with you fine people. That is because my final quarter of university study has proven to be riddled with expository duties so horrendous that they would bring even the most seasoned of scholars to a whimper. I feel a bit jostled by the amount of essays I must write. Kind of like this…

And the worst of it all is, I have finished reading The Rook but I will not be able to write a review for it, sharing the fate of The Passage. Oh sad times. I will keep updating everybody on the cool new stuff going on in the literary and film world around me but it will have to be in short tidbits. My infinite apologies. If I may offer some words of encouragement to my fellow readers, please DO read The Rook and The Passage. If I cannot officially review them, at least I can urge you to read these fantastic books. 

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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By Rafael A. Hernandez

Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in…blah blah blah. You do not want to hear that for the hundredth (millionth? maybe) time. You want to know if the coveted film adaptation of The Hunger Games is as good as the hype is building it up to be. The problem with films like these is the pedestal they are placed on. The series, especially the first book, were great achievements in fusing dystopian controversies with adolescent literature. The characters were well developed and the story was made with a fair mixture of terror and drama. The film however does miss out on some of the more important features that were so effective in the novel. Though the producers may have felt the film to be better off without these details, an audience who has read the book (which is plenty) will be slightly disappointed with some of the omissions. 

The Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen, the story’s heroine and future political inspiration. What was so great about the casting choice for the story’s protagonist was Lawrence’s ability to adjust herself into her roles. She implants the finer details of the character into her performances making every action genuine. This unfortunately acts as a double edge sword with Katniss’ character being very detached and emotionally unresponsive. Seeing this portrayed on film makes Katniss appear like an absent shell rather than someone who is at war with themselves internally.

Perhaps the most noteworthy disappointment of the film was the absence of the romance/farce between Katniss and Peeta. The film blatantly makes the relationship between the two platonic, both seemingly playing their parts for the sake of survival. This would not be a problem if the story was not for lack of emotional involvement. The film does an excellent job of displaying grandeur but loses sight of the more intimate details between characters. If there was an emotionally memorable moment it was definitely the death of Rue, which was all too short lived.

Drawbacks of MPAA ratings can be such a damper on the integrity of certain films; this is exemplified in bloody (or not) fashion in The Hunger Games. Its base material was filled with violent and potentially gory imagery which clearly could not be shown in a PG-13 film. Because of this threshold, battle scenes throughout the movie are lacking and underwhelming. Of course it does serve to display the gruesome nature of the games without pouring out buckets of corn syrup but one wishes for a little more detail. These are kids afterall- kids killing each other, let us not pussyfoot around the idea with shaky cameras. Every death had an opportunity to shake and disturb the audience but they did little more than invoke a grimace or two. And alas, the nation of Panem never did seem as oppressive as it was made out to be in the book. Though there were moments in the film that were well suited to conveying the districts’ disdain for Panem, the stakes just never seemed high enough. The sight of turmoil and the need to survive was hardly touched on and nearly nonexistent.

Perhaps the best aspects of the film were Josh Hutcherson’s performance of Peeta, doing well to portray the character’s astute, practical and kind-hearted nature. The cinematography was top notch as were the finer details to the society of Panem. Those in the capitol are clearly different from those in District 12 or 11. A profound sense of ignorant bliss encases those in the capitol as they cheer for their favorite tributes who, unlike themselves, have been living lives of hardship already. The Hunger Games will be an excellent film for those who have not read the book. Many who have will still find things to enjoy but a more keen eye will certainly pick out the things that were missed, and if not left out, could have made the film much greater.

You find precious gems in the most unlikely places. I was having a brief stroll through the university green house, examining the foliage with my biology class. Lo and behold a small box marked “FREE BOOKS”. Signals like this are normally give aways for trash like old text books or Chicken Soup for the Angsty Teenage Soul. 
I was pleasantly surprised to find under the rubble this old but not unsalvageable copy of Aldous Huxley’s Island. Maybe after I’ve read it my wonderful girlfriend can help me transform this classic into a hardcover. 

You find precious gems in the most unlikely places. I was having a brief stroll through the university green house, examining the foliage with my biology class. Lo and behold a small box marked “FREE BOOKS”. Signals like this are normally give aways for trash like old text books or Chicken Soup for the Angsty Teenage Soul

I was pleasantly surprised to find under the rubble this old but not unsalvageable copy of Aldous Huxley’s Island. Maybe after I’ve read it my wonderful girlfriend can help me transform this classic into a hardcover. 

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

By Rafael A. Hernandez

Dystopian fiction. What normally comes to mind when you hear those words? 1984. Fahrenheit 451. Brave New World. All great classics that propose some form of an oppressive and controlling government that has its bureaucratic teeth into all aspects of life. The genre of dystopian fiction is a forum for great political and social debate and though many of the novels that meet this standard are highly revered, they do lack a much needed amount of action. The stories are involving and morally challenging but they often fail at keeping you at the edge of your seat, so to speak. That is where Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, the second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, meets this compelling quota. 

The novel picks up after an excellent first book and continues through the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a champion of the Hunger Games: a battle royale involving two children from each district of the totalitarian nation of Panem. Narration comes solely from Katniss’ scope, giving the reader all the irrational, turbulent and often violent emotions experienced by this heroine. Katniss’ views on the events around her may come as frustrating to some readers as she poses all the emotional and psychological instabilities of a typical teenage girl, a prospect of which can be troublesome considering the backdrop of the novel. Being put through Katniss’ internal frustrations regarding her ever shifting love triangle with her best friend Gale and her compatriot Peeta becomes bothersome, bordering on ridiculous. It is only in the arena and under the pressure of battle do Katniss’ qualities shine.

Catching Fire acts much as a bridge between the displayed oppression of the first novel and the potentially life changing uprising to come in the third. In this second act, Katniss is thrown back into another Hunger Games along with her friend Peeta as a means to show all of Panem that not even the victors can challenge the nation’s power. All forms of despicable tactics are used to bring down this initially triumphant young girl. Everything from psychological warfare, poisonous gases and genetically mutated creatures are used to bring Katniss and Peeta down. It is refreshing to see a proper degree of action taking place in an genre that would otherwise be more story oriented. Catching Fire possesses an excellent story and its hardy dose of violence compliments the turmoil taking place not only in the arena. 

Suzanne Collins’ narrative invokes all of the appropriate notions of liberation and freedom while still creating a seemingly insurmountable and frightening entity such as Panem. Katniss, though sometimes unstable in her own right, can be viewed as the product of the very unstable and unforgiving environment she inhabits. But like all good stories, especially one so motivated by its emotional and battle oriented themes, it requires an ending. Readers will have no trouble barreling to the last page, craving to reach the conclusion. And in that final page, readers will surely be aching for more.

I Don’t Know How To Read: Point

I’m so excited because I have a new book. I got in on Tuesday. As noted from my previous blog, my friend and I went to Barnes and Noble where he bought me an early birthday present. AND HERE IT IS!

The book is called Point by Thomas Blackthorne. I read the first book entitledEdge and it was an excellent read (if you like dystopian thrillers, it’s for you). Yeah, I’m excited to see how the story progresses. So get out there and buy it and read it along with me.