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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Possessions Of Doctor Forrest by Richard T. Kelly (RIP VII)

Since starting this blog I haven't participated in any challenges, readalongs or events. But over the past couple of weeks I have spotted this icon on several of my favourite blogs and felt really keen to take part in the RIP VII event:

Readers Imbibing Peril is a two-month event that celebrates all things scary, spooky, ghastly, unsettling, whatever you want to call it. It's hosted by Carl and there are several different ways to participate. I've chosen to go for Peril The First, which means I will strive to read at least 4 novels over the next two months from the following categories:

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

This should hopefully be easily do-able, as I've already read a few that fit the description on my holiday last week and have plenty more on the TBR!

So without further ado, let's look at the first of my choices - maybe not the most suitable novel I could have thrown into my suitcase to read on the beach, but certainly one that fits well within the RIP VII parameters.

Three Scottish doctors - Grey Lochran, Robert Forrest and Steven Hartford - have been friends since their medical school days. As they have grown into middle-age they have grown somewhat apart and practice in very varied fields, but still keep in regular contact. When Dr Forrest suddenly disappears without a trace, his old colleagues are baffled and the police are unable to turn up a single lead. And although Robert is no longer around, his friends continue to feel echoes of his presence in everything they do. Old secrets are unearthed and it becomes certain that there is something sinister afoot.

The first thing that struck me about this novel is that the title is an odd one - Dr Forrest's possessions did not seem to me to play a vital role in the tale. Never mind the fact that Grey and Robert are both surgeons, so surely he would be a Mr Forrest and not a Dr? But when I stopped nit-picking and got over these essentially unimportant quibbles of mine, I enjoyed this mystery with its strong Gothic influences.

The story is told through diary entries and letters from the points of view of several characters, with a final chapter from Dr Forrest revealing all. This was a really effective plot device when it came to letting the reader know about certain secrets and keeping particular characters out of the loop, but it was a shame that none of the characters' voices was particularly distinctive. Kelly clearly draws on some Gothic classics for inspiration but does so very well. Suspense builds slowly throughout and I was left with a strong sense of unease when it came to the finale, with no idea what was going on.The ending is surprising if a little drawn out - the whole story is essentially re-told from Forrest's point of view and I became quite impatient for it to finish, although really I can't think of another way that Kelly could have done this and still managed to tie up all the loose ends and explain everything properly.

This is a really solid tale of horror and suspense and if you are in the mood for something spooky (perhaps thinking of joining in with RIP VII?) then I'd definitely give it a go. Although perhaps it's one to curl up with in front of the fire, with rain battering the window and a mug of hot chocolate on your knee, rather than lying on a beach in the sunshine as I did!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is set in a dystopian vision of the year 2044 in the USA. Fossil fuels are running out, global warming is taking its toll on the planet, the economic recession is getting worse and worse. The majority of the population find solace within the OASIS, a huge online game set within a virtual world that anybody can escape to just by putting on a visor. And participating in the OASIS becomes even more exciting when its founder, the reclusive J. Halliday, passes away. Halliday has no heirs and leaves his entire fortune and control of the OASIS to whoever can solve his clues (which are all based on his unrelenting obsession with 1980s pop culture) and unlock challenges hidden around the virtual landscape. An international frenzy ensues as the whole world competes for the prize - from ordinary teenagers such as protagonist Wade Watts and his friends, to the massive global corporation IOI who want to seize the OASIS in order to charge sky-high membership fees and make millions.

This was a perfect holiday read for me. I would bury my nose in the book and emerge some time later, having been completely oblivious to my surroundings and feeling the same slight disorientation that you get after becoming hooked on a new computer game for hours and hours. Not that you necessarily have to be a fan of computer games to enjoy this! I have to admit that most of the references to early gaming and video arcades went well over my head. However, I absolutely adore my 1980s teen movies and loved geeking out over the constant references to my favourites ('Answer the question, Claire'!!).

The pop culture references are certainly what set this book apart from similar stories, but while I enjoyed them, I did feel like it got a bit much at times. Cline obviously has a great passion for the books, films and games that he writes about, and it occasionally seemed like he might be name-dropping some of his own favourites just for the sake of it. Some of the more obscure references were accompanied by detailed explanations that didn't do much to further either plot or character development. This was a shame because equally there were some really great concepts that I felt could have been expanded on.

I liked the idea that Wade and Art3mis were motivated to win Halliday's quest in order to save the planet and fix things for the human race as a whole, and I would have loved to read more about the nature of their plans. In addition, the book delivers an anti-privatisation message that is touched upon but not developed as much as it could have been. The OASIS functions as more than just a game - children attend virtual schools there, virtual libraries, churches etc. and all these services would be threatened if the IOI won the quest. I would have liked to read more of Wade's thoughts about the impact that this would have on his life. Furthermore, Cline raises questions about reality and the pros and cons of functioning in a virtual world. Wade and his friends form tight bonds based on their online personae, but would they have become such good friends had they met in real life first? Does meeting online mean that people see each other for who they really are rather than making snap judgements based on appearance, or do we only see the sides of people that they choose to display to us?

This book is the most fun novel I've read in ages and certainly a must-read for anyone who has a passion for computer games, 1980s pop culture or anything remotely 'geeky'. It has a lot more to offer as well, but if you are someone who isn't at all interested in those areas then you might find it hard work.

1Q84 - Book Two

Well, I am back to the blog after a little hiatus while on holiday in Spain. I have been incredibly busy lazing around on the beach, eating copious amounts of tapas and working hard on my tan (I'm delighted to have turned all the way from alabaster to pale beige) but not to worry, I managed to squeeze a fair bit of reading into my tight schedule so there will be some reviews coming up soon.

I just wanted to quickly mention the progress that I have made with Murakami's 1Q84 trilogy - you may remember from my last post that I was planning to tackle each book in turn and post mini-reviews as I went along. Well, having finished Book Two before I went away, I have decided to abandon that initial plan. It's just too difficult to write anything worthwhile about Book Two in isolation without revealing spoilers for Book One! But of course when I've finished the trilogy I will do a proper post with an overview of my thoughts (I warn you now, it may well just end up being a disorganised ramble of gushing praise, as I have completely adored the first two novels).