Archive for December, 2012

h1

The Black Company

December 25, 2012

The Black CompanyThis book is a reminiscence of the more recent and famous A Game of Thrones series. I can see why many people refer this novel as the precursor of the gritty fantasy genre.

The story revolves around a physician soldier (you might say a medic sergeant) of The Black Company, a mercenary group, who happened also to be the Annals writer of the company. The story began with just another assignment contract for the mercenary, until it get entangled into an epic struggle, in the wrong side…

It doesn’t meant that there is the right side or the wrong side, the good and the bad is not clear, everything is gray. The good is bad, and the bad is good. You cannot depend on anything but yourself, or in the case of the novel, in the company.

The characters are well-built through the dynamics of the company. You can feel the sympathy for the characters, and the company too. I can see the parallel of the company with French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère). When you join the legion, your past is forgotten. Many join the legion to escape from their past, or to seek asylum. Each of them has their own reason, but nevertheless pledge the allegiance as one company, The Black Company.

As a gritty fantasy, this is not your common sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Magic is not seen as some exotic thing, but just like any other combat skill. And a sorcerer can be killed by common soldier, given the circumstances.

I think the best part of this novel is the plot. You have the plot, counter-plot, and the counter of the counter-plot. You will keep guessing until the end, and still you wonder. What I find interesting also, the story is told from the perspective of foot soldier, not the general. They are not the decision maker, but nevertheless, they are the one who died in the battle field. I can see why this book is popular among military person, because it personify the daily struggle of a military man in the front line. (Glen Cook, the writer, is a Vietnam War veteran).

I will give this novel a 4.5 stars, almost perfect! What I feel lacking, is the feel of the epic struggle, like the one you get from some epic fantasy. You are not entirely absorbed by the story, and engage wholly with it, like it is your own struggle.

Endnote: The end of this novel gives a hint of a very important plot for the sequel (spoiler), which will launch me into the sequel.

Advertisements
h1

Life of Pi

December 19, 2012

Kukira, Avatar sudah menjadi pencapaian tertinggi sinematografi 3D. Ternyata aku salah. Life of Pi, di luar dugaan mampu melewati pencapaian Avatar lewat kejeniusan Ang Lee. Mungkin ini juga memang tidak terlalu aneh, karena Life of Pi, dengan aura surealis, semula dikira tidak akan bisa diadaptasi dalam bentuk film. Dengan bantuan teknologi, dan ditambah dengan sesuatu yang tidak bisa tergantikan oleh teknologi, yaitu otak manusia, Life of Pi telah menaikkan benchmark pencapaian film 3D.

Di satu pihak, Ang Lee diuntungkan karena Life of Pi, sebagai sebuah buku, adalah sebuah buku yang luar biasa. Namun di pihak lain, ini malah menjadi sebuah beban yang sangat berat bagi Ang Lee, yaitu bagaimana menuangkan buku ini dalam kanvas film, dengan segala kesulitannya. Teknologi memang ada di pihak Ang Lee, namun bagaimana pun yang paling penting adalah manusia di belakangnya.

Beberapa adegan yang patut diacungi jempol:

1. Opening. Penggambaran kebun binatang kecil di Pondicherry sungguh luar biasa. Begitu berwarna, dan angle-nya menarik.

2. Adegan Mamaji berenang di kolam renang. Ang Lee mem-blend warna air dan langit, dan hasilnya luar biasa. Adegan manusia berenang di awan, surealis. Jenius.

3. Adegan ubur2 berpendar dan ikan terbang. Pemanfaatan 3D-nya luar biasa.

4. Adegan Pi yang separoh mabok dan berhalusinasi. Sewaktu ia memandang kedalaman laut dan melihat banyak binatang di dalamnya. Sekali lagi, surealis.

5. Tentu saja, adegan meerkat. Dengan pulau hidup, yang kalau dilihat dari jauh berbentuk manusia yang sedang tidur.

6. Last but not least, sebuah caption shot yang dibuat mirip dengan sampul buku Life of Pi (lihat gambar di kiri) Sebuah sekoci, dengan Pi dan Richard Parker yang terbaring kuyu, di shoot vertikal dari atas 90 derajat. Wow! Adegan yang begitu sederhana, tapi begitu bermakna.

 

 

Dan ini shot dari filmnya:

Saya termasuk orang yang membenci film2 seperti disaster-porn seperti 2012 dan action-porn seperti Transformers. Visual efek memang menjadi bagian yang sulit dipisahkan dari film saat ini, tapi bagian yang terpenting dari sebuah film adalah CERITA, CERITA dan CERITA! Tanpa sebuah cerita yang baik, semua visual efek akan menjadi sampah tontonan. Beberapa sutradara mampu menggunakan efek 3D dengan baik. Contohnya adalah James Cameron dengan Avatar-nya. Lalu Martin Scorsese dengan Hugo-nya. Dan kini Ang Lee, lewat Life of Pi yang melewati semuanya. Yang menarik dari Ang Lee, ia tidak mengumbar spesial efek. Ia menggunakannya dengan porsi yang pas. Salah satu contoh film yang mengumbar spesial efek dan gagal adalah The Immortals-nya Tarsem Singh, yang gagal mengulangi keberhasilan visual efek dalam The Fall.

Tidak mudah memang menerjemahkan sebuah novel filosofis seperti Life of Pi ke dalam bahasa gambar. Dialog-dialog internal dan panjang mau tidak mau hilang terpotong. Di sinilah butuh kejelian penulis skrip dan sutradara untuk memilah mana yang diambil dan mana yang dibuang, dan bila perlu mana yang ditambahkan dari buku asli. Namun harus diakui, film ini memang menjadi “kurang filosofis” dibandingkan bukunya. Tapi mungkin ini menang tidak bisa dihindari. Dan Ang Lee serta timnya telah berbuat lebih dari cukup.

Sebagai hasilnya, sebuah film yang nyaris sempurna. Calon OSCAR, saingan dengan Argo, yang sayangnya belum saya tonton.

Verdict: 4.5/5

h1

Grass

December 18, 2012

GrassAs any good sci-fi novel, it ponders a lot on the human nature; it questions religion and philosophy. The Grass has done a great job in this.

Grass is planet which the predominant vegetation is (not surprisingly) grass! Grass is located on the rim of galaxy wide-spread human civilization, which given its unique sociology.

The intro is a bit surprising, it does not give you any orientation. You get confused, or even let down, but once you finished the entire chapter, you are hooked (it’s a spoiler, so I will not spoil the fun).

One of the weak point of this novel I think is the character and the relation between the character. The characters in this novel just serves as “tiny little thing”, which serves greater purposes. They are just pawns of greater events, or in this story the greater race, it is not easy to fall in love with the characters.

But the weakness above is compensated by the discussion of the race itself, and you can fall in love with the race. It really makes you think about ourselves, whether we are too proud to assume ourselves as the pinnacle of the creation.

This novel also has a religious overtone. It criticizes the establishment of organized religion, and even the nature of the creator. You can also see that it hints a slight discussion on the abortion issue. Some readers might get offended.

The world development is also great. The sociology of the Grassian is interesting, even though it does not serve the main issue of the story. But nevertheless, it is really interesting, like a cherry on the topping of already delicious pudding.

Overall, it is a superb novel. Solid 4/5

h1

Starship Troopers

December 11, 2012

Starship TroopersThis book deserves its classic status among sci-fi novel. It revolves around the live of Juan Rico, a Mobile Infantry of Terran Federation, future elite Earth federation fighting force. If you know this novel from the movie adaptation, you might get a wrong impression. It is nothing like the movie, except some part in the beginning. This book, even though it has some action part, mostly it is political philosophy commentary.

Heinlein is using three stage of the character’s life for the in depth discussion. The first one is his History and Moral Philosophy class in high school, the second is the hardship that he has to endure in boot camp, the third is in cadet class, which is also hard for his average brain. The lengthy conversation between his instructor and him might put off some more-action-orientated readers. But the gist of this novel IS the political commentary.

I’m not going to comment on the political statement in this novel, since this is a novel review, not a political essay. Enough to say that the statement is compelling, whether you agree with it or not. In some part I find it parallel with Falkenberg Legion series by Jerry Pournelle. It is not surprising because both of them write military sci-fi and have right wing tendency.

The elements that lack from this novel is story telling. There are not much story to follow, only fragments of military life. So if you want a good story, this one is not for you. The technology revelation is also not in depth, except for the military exo-skeleton. Even by all of this lacking, the speculation of a future global federation truly made this novel a classic one.

Personal note: I truly like that the future military officer should be also proficient in MATH! So Rico which is a bit slow get tutored by the skipper daily. I hope this is really happening, haha…

Verdict: 4/5

Additional Note:
Several issue discussed in this novel: democracy, suffrage, death penalty, juvenile delinquency.

h1

Snow Crash

December 3, 2012

Snow CrashThis is not a book for everyone. First, it heavily scattered with computer terms, which might hinder the initiated person. Second, the hilarious and sarcastic style which will offend some readers. But if you are OK with that, this is an excellent book for you.

The story revolves around the protagonist, Hiro Protagonist (yes, that is his name), a pizza delivery man, a computer hacker, a part-time spy and a swordplay expert. You figure it out! The setting is a wholly privatized world, when the government is just another private company. And Snow Crash is some kind of digital drug within the digital world of the future.

One of my major complains about this book is the protracted beginning. It does not go anywhere except bringing you from one hilarious scene to another. Yes, it gives you some idea about the world they are in, but still too dragging. It does not get interesting before page 200. But if you survive that, you get the gem of this book (which I will not tell you because it will spoil the fun).

But I can tell you this, Stephenson is indeed a visionary writer. This book was first published in 1992, while most of us at that time probably knew Internet only by using email. In this book you can find the world of Second Life, when human-user can interact in a 3D virtual world called Metaverse using their avatar (yes, he used this term in this book), which is much bigger than the Earth itself.

The second interesting thing is his bleak vision of our future, which I might comment, is not too far fetch. This makes this book a bit depressing, if not frightening. Even though this is not an apocalyptic novel (in one sense, but apocalyptic in another sense), this book really makes me doubt that our future will be a golden age.

The best part of this book is the fresh interpretation of some mythologies. It really gives you food for thought.

Verdict: 4/5

I give it a four instead of five because it is too action packed, and it is too comical (It is originally written for comic book)